America steps up to the climate change plate

Tiistaina, 30. kesäkuuta 2009     0 kommentti(a)
Andrew Jones
Kansainvälinen ympäristö- ja luonnonvarapolitiikka -tutkimusohjelma

Last Friday saw Congress vote to pass a bill aimed at cutting carbon emissions in the US for the first time in its history. After a flurry of lobbying from proponents and opposition the House of Representatives narrowly voted 219 to 212 in favour of proposed legislation aiming to cut carbon emissions by 17% from 2005 levels by 2020 and 83% by 2050.

This was an historic moment in that this is the first US bill passed in either house to attempt to address climate change. This prospective American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES Act) is a long-term roadmap that seeks to transform the way in which energy is produced in America, with wide-ranging implications for the energy sector, agriculture, manufacturing, and – to wildly-varying purported degrees American families. Measures stipulated in the Act include a ‘cap-and-trade’ emissions trade system, a national renewable electricity standard, as well as billions of dollars for energy projects and subsidies for low carbon agriculture. Despite the divisive nature of the climate debate in the US and the diverging interests of powerful political players, the first step to a clean energy future has been taken.

On the face of it, it’s exciting stuff. At last the world’s largest per capita emitter of greenhouse gases is stepping up to the plate and undertaking efforts to change its ways and giving a positive signal to the international community in the run-in to December’s climate change conference in Copenhagen; an excellent fillip for the hopes of a global consensus on climate change.

However, it would be far-fetched to now see the US as assuming leadership on the issue. The aforementioned emissions cuts targets take 2005 as the base year rather than 1990 - between which the United States increased its greenhouse gas emissions by 16%. This means the US goals are, harrowingly, not even in the same ball park as the stated 25-40% cuts from 1990 asserted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that would yield an even chance of limiting global temperature rise to below 2C. In comparison, the EU 2020 target is a 20-30% reduction in emissions from 1990 levels (witht a 9.3% cut already procured, mainly through economic collapses of the 1990s). The new US commitments however would only see a 4% reduction given the same parameters.

Furthermore the bill, in an effort to get it passed, was watered-down considerably and must again go through the mill before being approved by the Senate and becoming a piece of legislation. It remains to be seen if this remarkable show of political will ends toothless.

From the wider global perspective the vote is cause for optimism ahead of the crucial summit in Denmark this December and adds to momentum for a global – and binding – consensus. It must be seen as a blessing – and a wonder – that America has stepped up and is on the right path at last.

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