The great divide: EU-US approaches to climate change

Europe and the United States have different policy options when it
comes to fighting global warming. Their clashing views on the
economic impact of climate change policies do not bode well for the
chances of any future global framework post-Kyoto.

The difference in climate change policies between the US and the
EU has focused on their acceptance/rejection of the 1997 Kyoto
Protocol. The irony is that this historical global agreement was
brought about mainly by pressure from the US, whose vice-president
Al Gore came up with the idea of market-based emissions trading to
tackle global warming. At that time, EU countries were very
sceptical and some even opposed the idea. The later US rejection
and the enthusiastic embrace by the EU of its emissions trading
scheme can therefore be interpreted as a major political
‘flip-flop’.

The decision of the Bush government to withdraw from the Kyoto
Protocol was based on studies about the economic
impact
of its Kyoto commitments (the US being the largest
emitter of greenhouse gases), not on a direct questioning of the
science behind climate change. 

The Global Climate Change Initiative,
which the Bush government launched in February 2002, aims to reduce
the greenhouse gas (GHG) ‘intensity’ of
the US economy (GHG emissions per unit of total GDP) by 18 per cent
over the period 2002-2012. The US government has claimed that this
is a similar effort to the commitments undertaken by Kyoto backers.
The policy measures in the US rely on voluntary
initiatives
and technology and scientific
research
.

The government’s hesitation on climate change has led
to several initiatives in the US congress.
The most well-known is the McCain-Lieberman ‘Climate Stewardship
Act’ of 2003, which proposes a ‘cap and trade’ system for trading
GHG allowances as from 2010.

There also have been several strategies and action
plans at state level
.

Businesses working in the US are divided
on the issue of climate change policies. Big companies like
ExxonMobil have questioned the human influence on climate change,
but others such as BP, Shell and Dupont have taken more progressive
positions, including a strong commitment to reduce their own
greenhouse gas emissions. 

In Europe, EU business circles have
recently started expressing serious concerns about the impact of EU
climate change policies on the competitiveness of European
industry.

On 15 February, the US State Department
issued a statement saying that it is committed to
addressing the challenges of climate change. The US is to invest
nearly 5.8 billion dollars in 2005 on science and technology
research.

"While the United States and countries with binding emissions
restrictions under the Kyoto Protocol are taking different paths,
our destination is the same, and compatible with other efforts,"
said State Department spokesman Richard Boucher.

Celebrating the entry into force of the Kyoto Protocol on 16
February, the EU appealed to the international community and to the
US in particular to join the 141 countries that have signed the
Kyoto Protocol.

Since the Bush-1 administration decided in March 2001 to reject the
Kyoto Protocol, the EU has taken global leadership on climate
change mitigation. For many Europeans, the US has caved in to
the big American oil lobbies and there is a widespread impression
that the US is doing little or nothing to reduce greenhouse gas
emissions.

  • The issue of climate change is likely to be addressed during US
    President Bush's visit to the EU on 22 February.
  • The Spring European Council will discuss the Commission's plans
    for future climate change policies post 2012.

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