Firstly it is important to note that US policy is characterized by a specific discourse, differing from its European counterpart. The US emphasizes the national security implications of climate change, as opposed to a focus on global responsibilities in Europe. After the election of Obama, Hillary Clinton stressed that the new administration “is fully engaged and ready to lead” in climate change policy in April 2009.
However, because of only slightly altered domestic political conditions, notably with regard to public opinion, the reluctance of Congress and the priority of other, mostly domestic political issues, a certain dependability can be noted in US climate policy. In this respect, there have been discrepancies between the policy and rhetoric of the Obama administration.
There is, however, a dynamic development of initiatives to combat climate change on the individual state level such as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative in the Northeast, the Western Regional Climate Action Initiative, and the Midwest Greenhouse Gas Accord, which have regrettably only received limited attention in Europe.
On the international level, the US has given up its resistance to a successor for the Kyoto Protocol and as top-priority goal in the post-Kyoto-process is aiming at pushing China toward long-term commitments to reduce emissions. Coordination with China has been partly transferred to the G8 summits as well as a Major Economies Forum for Energy and Climate Change. This is regarded as a more efficient forum but risks sidelining the UN process.
Critically Examining the Content of the EU Leadership
Secondly, one has to question the content of the leadership role widely attributed to the EU. This leadership role is relative insofar that the EU could play this role in the past, partly because of US reluctance in climate change issues under the Bush administration. In doing so, the EU was able to make its mark as a political player independent of the US.
Accordingly, because it proves EU's quality as an actor in global politics, climate policy has gained institutional interest. Nevertheless, the EU has ambivalent achievements in climate policy and its leadership role has been not pushed ahead by all member countries to the same extent.
Challenges and Opportunities for a Common Transatlantic Policy
Based on the context outlined above, it is crucial to identify key opportunities and challenges for a common climate policy in transatlantic relations. The current economic crisis is a major challenge, as economic troubles lower States' preparedness to accept far reaching policy measures to reduce greenhouse gases.
Besides, the economic crisis has reduced investment in renewable energy as well as the financial means of states. Considering its leadership role and its relatively ambitious reduction targets, the EU faces a challenge in uniting the negotiations of different fora. An example is incorporating the Major Economies Forum in a process under UN auspices aimed at legally binding commitments.
The EU must also foster reduction targets that are superior to those proposed by the US and seek to engage both the US and China. Here, the challenge for the EU is to coordinate its own goals better with the US in order to reach a common position vis à vis emerging economies.
In the US, the role of president Obama is a decisive factor in prioritizing Climate Change as a political issue- both among US citizens and on the national political agenda. Finally, opportunities for the US and Europe arise as regards mutual learning. Only if the US and the EU act in a well-coordinated manner during the COP 16 conference in Cancún, can they can succeed in convincing emerging economies to take a more ambitious stance on climate protection.
Thus, the development of a common position and as a prerequisite an improved mutual understanding of each other’s concerns and (domestic) constraints is vital. Within the framework of the German initiative “Transatlantische Klimabrücke” (transatlantic climate bridge) as well as through other initiatives, learning processes on the organization of climate protection as a bottom-up or top-down approach as well as on differences in the discourse on climate change could be encouraged.
The policy recommendations derived from the analysis outlined above are - perhaps surprisingly – predominantly directed at the European Union and European civil society. This is founded in my conviction that firstly, given the US political system, leeway for a more ambitious climate policy is currently greater in the EU. Secondly, well-meant policy recommendations aimed at the US, which often display a lack of knowledge not only of US climate policy initiatives but also of the underlying discourse and debates, rather bear the danger of alienating the US.
- The EU should use its position in forums such as the Major Economies Forum in order to influence the negotiation outcomes in the best possible way. At the same time it should continue to emphasize the priority of the UN as the forum for climate negotiations and work towards an inclusion of parallel forums’ results in the post-Kyoto process.
- Instead of perceiving the bilateral negotiations between the US and China as a threat, the EU should try to shape this new partnership and seek to establish a new threesome leadership of climate protection.
- At the same time, the US must recognize the principle of “common but differentiated responsibility” and, thus, get used to the thought of accepting voluntary pledges by emerging economies such as India and China as sufficient commitment.
- The EU and the US must consider further financial concessions to the developing and emerging countries to improve climate change mitigation and adaptation. However, a key issue is not only the amount of money spent but also the governance architecture envisaged for the future Green Found. An equitable representation of developing respectively emerging economies and industrialized nations as successfully practiced in the Multilateral Fund related to the Montreal Protocol on the Depletion of the Ozone Layer is crucial in that respect.
- The EU should engage in well-directed agenda setting: In the face of unforeseeable events such as the past economic crisis and possible future terrorist attacks the protection of the global climate must not lose its priority.
- EU and European civil society actors should appreciate the efforts made by ambitious actors within the US, encourage existing positive signals there and meet the US half way in their climate protection efforts.
- The EU should evaluate the own position within the international climate regime more self-critical and take a more coherent stand in the international negotiations.
- The EU should intensify its engagement beyond the Clean Development Mechanism, which currently accounts for approximately 50 percent of its emission reductions to become more credible in its climate policy efforts. Energy from renewable sources and energy efficiency should be promoted on an even larger scale.
Julia Grauvogel is studying for an MA in Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Tübingen and is currently spending a semester abroad at the University of Lausanne.
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