U.S. and International Climate Negotiations: The View from Europe

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Published on May 28th, 2009  |  Discuss This Article  

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Sascha Müller-Kraenner, The Nature Conservancy’s senior policy advisor in Europe, always has a fresh perspective on conservation issues from across the pond. Below he discusses why it’s so important for the United States to be fully engaged in international climate change discussions and how Europeans view the latest developments on climate change legislation.

By Sascha Müller-Kraenner

Serious negotiations for a new global climate treaty will start in Bonn, Germany, in the first two weeks of June. This new agreement will have to build upon the Kyoto Protocol which was signed in 1997, but was not ratified by the United States and has not significantly altered the trajectory of climate change emissions.

The European Union has long argued that the global climate crisis can only be addressed if all major polluters join legally binding commitments to reduce their greenhouse gases. Such an agreement would necessarily have to include both the United States as well as major developing countries like China, India and Brazil.

This is why European governments hope that the Obama administration brings a new era in international environmental diplomacy. European diplomats expect that unilateral denial of the climate challenge will now be replaced by multilateral action.

The president’s first announcements that the United States is back and willing to negotiate seriously have been greeted enthusiastically here. The general view in Brussels, Paris or Berlin though is that words now have to be followed by action. At the end of the day, U.S. action will have to include both significant greenhouse gas reductions at home, as well as a sizable financial contribution to global funds that support developing countries to introduce low carbon technologies, reduce deforestation and adapt to the impacts of climate change.

The European Union itself has put together an ambitious climate policy package and has promised to achieve 20 percent greenhouse gas reductions by 2020 based on 1990 levels. The EU has promised to upgrade its commitment to 30 percent if others, like the United States and Japan, make a comparable effort. Europe’s target is not just empty talk but backed up by targets for renewable energies, energy efficiency and a continent wide cap-and-trade system. International climate funds will be supported through parts of the auctioning revenue from the carbon trade.

Getting such an ambitious package passed has not been easy politically. Many coal rich member states did initially object to the strict carbon cap. Governments from Eastern Europe were afraid that economic development would suffer under too stringent environmental regulation. This is why European leaders understand the regional interests at play for the negotiation of climate legislation in the U.S. Congress.

Nevertheless, a Europe-wide agreement was passed as a law. Every EU member state contributes — but to the extent of their respective economic strength and financial capability.

European leaders know, that as in their own countries, domestic legislation will be a pre-condition for the Obama administration to act internationally. Therefore, progress with new cap-and-trade legislation, as proposed in the House of Representatives, is being followed closely. In fact, most ideas for a U.S.-wide carbon market have been based on the blueprint of the EU’s emission trading system for greenhouse gases that has been in place since 2005. Europeans also would like to see a stronger emphasis on harvesting the enormous potential that exists in the U.S. for renewable energy and energy efficiency measures.

Since the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, Europe has led the world on climate change. No one, however, more than Europeans themselves, would be happier to share that leadership role in the future with the United States.

(Image: Climate change protest sign on statue in Rome, Italy. Credit: said&done through a Creative Commons license.)

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