John Kerry told government representatives from all over the world that the U.S. will have a cap-and-trade program up and running by the end of this year.
America is back. America intends to lead on these issues after years on the sidelines of climate change negotiations. The U.S. will lead by example,” he told delegates of the annual Sustainable Development Summit in Delhi last week.
The Kerry speech met with the high expectations that many in the international community have of the new Obama administration’s assumption of leadership in the environmental crisis.
Kerry, who now chairs of the foreign relations committee in the Senate, warned that “the Senate will not sign on a treaty that doesn’t involve developing countries making some kind of contribution.” He was not present at the summit, which took place from last week Thursday until the weekend, because he was in meetings about the financial crisis. Addressing the conference via a video link, he strongly criticized India’s government for failing to commit to fixed timetables and plans. “We must all hang together or we will all hang separately,” Kerry commented.
The summit, entitled “Towards Copenhagen: an equitable and ethical approach,” provided interesting insights into what the first assessment is of the Obama administration’s environmental credentials. Kerry’s sentiments were echoed by a message from President Obama himself which was relayed to the attendants by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon who announced that Obama had told him climate change was his ‘domestic as well as international priority’ and that he had assured him of Washington’s ‘full cooperation to make Copenhagen a success.’
On the sidelines of the conference economists and business leaders as well as technology experts were strongly divided on the potential impact of the financial crisis on the environment. Many predicted that the economy would eventually pull through on demand for home construction products and energy efficiency equipment. “Someone has to manufacture, distribute, fix, and advertise these new products,” according to a report on SeedMagazine.
The publication added that many of the participants remained unconvinced that governmental and business investment in energy conservation efforts would actually drive an economic recovery. But others argued the exact opposite and even said that economic hardships are good because they remind people to make personal sacrifices for the environment. “People in the West are cutting back on luxuries and realizing that they still survive that it’s not so bad to sacrifice a few things,” one speaker said.
First reports back from the conference about what the Obama administration’s estimated chances of success are to curb the emissions of greenhouse gases are equally conflicting. But at least strong words are being spoken by people with various opinions, ranging from those holding out hope that the US will knock the world into shape to others saying that there’s no way that anything much will change.
The United Nations climate chief Yvo de Boer was perhaps realistic when he told reporters that Obama is unlikely to catch up with Europe any time soon in cutting greenhouse gas emissions. “I don’t think that is feasible for the U.S.,” the United Nations official said. Unlike the U.S., whose energy policies have been dictatedby big companies like Exxon Mobil and the coal sector (pdf), Europe has been taking proactive policy steps to curb pollution from cars, factories and power plants during recent years. Europe is on track to reduce its emissions 8 percent by 2010 and only needs to achieve another 12% reduction compared to 1990 levels to fulfill its international obligations. Factors people believe will hamper U.S. efforts include population growth; the U.S. population is growing rapidly whereas Europe is stagnating.
Obama’s election pledge to bring U.S. emissions down to 1990 levels by 2020 is already lower than a promise by the 27-nation European Union to slash greenhouse gases 20% by 2020.
What the Obama administration has already signaled is incredibly important,” de Boer said. “President Obama has currently offered to return emission levels to 1990 levels by 2020. Whether he goes beyond that is part of the international negotiations.”
The first tangible policy changes Obama has already effected include allowing the State of California to regulate the car industry’s maximum levels of greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks. The state aims to reduce its CO2 emissions 30 percent by 2016. The major challenge for the car industry now is to use the economic recovery package money on installing energy saving technology rather than just survive the current slump.
The creation of a carbon dioxide market is tipped by some to be one of the main tools for the U.S. to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. It’s a much-debated item among U.S. policy-makers and there are various proposals to create a nationwide market. Many people say that only those initiatives which are joined by international parties like China and the EU are going to bear fruit. Others say that all cap-and-trade schemes are doomed to failure and propose a carbon tax (check out our recent article about this issue). The European Union, which emits around 14% of the world’s annual emissions, already started operating its own trading scheme in 2005 and called on the U.S. to set up a CO2 cap-and-trade market linking members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the 30 richest countries in the world. The participation of China (pdf) is also believed to be of key importance for the chances of success of a cap and trade platform. China thus far has been hesitant.