The victory of Barack Obama in last week’s Iowa elections came as a big surprise for the EU elites who had already put all their money on a new Clinton Presidency. If Obama continues his winning streak on Tuesday on New Hampshire, European policymakers and lobbyists will have to learn more about the positions of the Illinois Senator.
Therefore, let’s have a closer look at Obama’s positions on climate and energy issues. Here are some of the main policy actions he put forward in the last year (sources The Grist: Factsheet Obama on energy and climate change and Ligue of Conservation Voters):
- 80% cut of US emissions by 2050 (compared to 1990)
- introduction of a cap-and-trade system with 100% auctioning
- 25% of US electricity to come from renewables by 2025
- improving energy efficiency 50% by 2030
- new buildings in US to be carbon neutral by 2030
- raising fuel-economy standards for automobiles to 40 miles per gallon by 2020
- support for coal-to-liquids (Illinois is a coal state) but only if it reduces carbon emissions by 20% compared to conventional gasoline
- sceptical about the future of nuclear power
- has taken stance against offshore drilling
The Grist also has an excellent interview on the record with Obama.
Of course, these are his positions before being President. We have seen from George W. Bush that, once in power, and in the line of lobbying fire, campaign positions can easily change. Candidate Bush was in favour of cutting greenhouse gases to tackle climate change :)
If there is one thing clear after the tumultuous Bali summit, it is that the world is putting big hopes in a regime change in the United States. Without leadership of the US on the climate front, the emerging economies will not jump onboard and therefore the American Presidential elections of next year might become the defining historical moment in the war against climate catastrophe.
That being said, climate change is NOT the big issue in the Presidential campaign as I reported in an earlier post.
Nevertheless, for us European who would like to know what the candidates intend to do on combating climate chaos, there are a few great websites that I can recommend.
The first one is an excellent voterguide put together by the progressive League of Conservation Voters which has a neat presentation (in summary format) of the different programmes of the Democrat and Republican contenders. The site also has a scorecard for all candidates.
The second one is the environmental blog The Grist which has interviews and fact sheets on the climate change and energy ideas of the main candidates.
Last but not least, for anyone wanting to follow the campaign on a day-to-day basis with excellent background reporting, there is the NY Times’ Caucus blog.
Three American political commentators do not see global warming as one of the defining issues for the upcoming presidential campaign. The next president will probably be chosen on the basis of personality and domestic issues unless there is a new terrorist attack before November 2008.
The three journalists, Rick Burke (NY Times), Carroll Doherty (Pew Research Center) and Jonathan Weisman (Washington Post) were invited to Brussels for a debate organised by the US German Marshall Fund.
None of the three dared to make any predictions as to the outcome of the Presidential race which will start with preliminaries in Iowa in January 2008. The Democrats have the better chances but this is more a result of the frustration with Bush than because of the Democrats’ own merits, according to the US journalists. The names most mentioned during the briefing as potential runners were Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama for the Democrats and Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney for the Republicans, but watch out for Mike Huckabee (Republican), dixit Burke. A double ticket Clinton-Obama would be too much breaking the taboos, agreed all three.
Jonathan Weisman felt that, contrary to the last two campaigns, foreign policy would play less of a role. Health care, energy costs, immigration and tax policies are the issues that matter to the American people this time.
Asked by different speakers from the audience about climate change, the three experts did not see Europe’s hot topic playing a major role in the campaign, although they admitted that all Democrat candidates are trying to present their special climate change plans. Energy security (and oil independence) could be more of an issue, said Weisman, especially if gasoline prices would go to 4 dollars a gallon.
Let me add my two-cents worth: it is clear that even the press experts are quite uncertain about the outcome of the next Presidential elections. They all see that the country is ready for a big change but in what direction and with whom seems to be wide open. I also think they underestimate the energy security issue and, linked to that, the growing anti-globalisation mood in the US. If the US were to go into a recession, energy prices would rise spectacularly and unemployment would start to grow considerably, we might be in for some strange surprises, even an influential independent candidate (Bloomberg?) who might not be the ultimate winner but could surely change the cards in a considerable way. I generally agree with the GMF speakers though that Europeans overestimate the impact climate change will have on the campaign.
Will America awake from its long climate sleep and become the new world leader for sustainable energy policies? It certainly looks like it judging from the fervour with which the Democrat presidential candidates are positioning themselves on this issue.
The latest bold plans for a green US energy future come from Hillary Clinton and some of the ideas expressed in her speech of 5 November are certainly very ambitious and even visionary:
“For this generation of Americans, climate change is our Space Race. It is our home-front mobilization during World War II and it is our response to the Great Depression. According to studies, the negative economic consequences of climate change will affect every part of our country, virtually every sector of our economy, and strain our local governments, cost jobs, and extract a horrific human toll” [my highlighting].
The most striking proposals of the Clinton plan are:
- 80% emission reductions from 1990 levels by 2050;
- a cap-and trade system with auctioning of 100% of pollution credits;
- new fuel efficiency targets for cars (55mpg by 2030);
- an aggressive programme for energy efficiency and green investments;
- renewables to generate 25% of electricity by 2030 and 60 billion gallons of home-grown biofuels available for cars and trucks by 2030;
- no new subsidies for nuclear power;
- 10 “smart grid city” partnerships to foster the development of a new electricity grid;
- a “National Energy Council” in the White House.
The full plan is available via the Clinton website.
Senators Joe Lieberman (Independent) and John Warner (Republican) presented a new initiative to tackle global warming on 18 October. The new proposal (“America’s Climate Security Act”) got the support of several senators from both main parties and some environmental think tanks. The proposed bill introduces a mandatory cap-and-trade system similar to the EU’s emission trading scheme starting from 2012 and aims at bringing greenhouse gas emissions back to 1990 levels by 2015 (a 15% reduction) and reduce them further to 65% less emissions by 2050 (compared to 1990).
Industry groups reacted negatively to the new proposal saying it would undermine the competitiveness of the American industry, while some green NGOs criticised the bill for not going far enough.
Some commentators expect this proposal to have a good chance of getting adopted by the beginning of 2008. The proposal is still much less ambitious than the EU’s ambition of a 20% cut of emissions by 2020.
- Full text of the new Climate Security Act (from the Lieberman website)
- Press release Joe Lieberman
- One-pager on the Lieberman-Warner proposal
- SFGate.com: Historic bill in Senate to fight warming
- Earth Times: Legislators introduce ‘breakthrough’ climate bill in US Congress
- Nature: US climate bill calls for emission caps
I have not made up my mind yet which US Presidential candiate I would vote for if I were an American citizen. Of course, in election campaigns big promises are cheap and therefore it needs quite a bit of analysis what business interest ties the candidates have to be able to predict their real behaviour once in power.
Nevertheless, Barack Obama’s comprehensive energy and climate change plan (presented on Monday 8 October) grabbed my attention.
Not only does Obama propose a radical cut of CO2 emissions by 2050 (he is not the only Democrat candidate to do this – John Edwards has announced the same target already months ago ), but he also wants to auction emissions permits and “re-engage” with the international UN-led initiatives on climate change.
I will look at the energy/climate promises of other candidates in future posts.
- At the recent US summit of largest greenhouse gas emitters, the Bush government presented a matrix of US policy achievements to convince others that the US administration is tackling climate change. Seven NGOs reworked the document and tell the “true story” behind the US climate/energy policy. Anyone who volunteers to produce a similar matrix for EU policies? I am sure it would also show more rhetoric than reality.
- CNBC TV today had an interesting interview with CIBC World Markets chief economist, Jeff Rubin. Mr. Rubin expects oil prices of 100 dollars next year as oil exporters will increasingly use their production for domestic use. The export capacity of OPEC, Russia and Mexico will drop 2.5 million barrels a day by 2010, according to CIBC. Most of the oil producing countries subsidise gasoline prices leading to surging rates of domestic oil production. More on the Low Carbon Kid blog.
US President Bush has sent a letter to 15 governments plus the EU and the United Nations inviting them to meet on 27-28 September in Washington to discuss future climate change and global energy policies. More on this in the Telegraph and New York Times.
The obvious cynical reaction of anyone worried about climate change and energy is, of course, to doubt whether the US President, who killed Kyoto and for years questioned the human factor behind climate change, has become a real converted believer (a Gore-an?). Moreover, I am very sceptical about the global climate change circus and believe that real progress is more likely to come from enlightened big cities and regions.
This being said, I see one interesting and positive point in Bush’s invitation letter: the fact that the meeting will go beyond pure climate change issues. As the title on the letter suggests, this will be a meeting on “energy security and climate change”. I think even the order of the two issues in the title has a significance. I would dare to go as far as to state that Bush’s conversion has more to do with the growing awareness of the world’s and the US empire’s energy predicament(the supply-demand crunch or for others, “peak oil”) than with climate change as such.
If the September meeting can succeed in adding that particular “energy descent” dimension to the current political fever on climate change, Mr Bush will have left a remarkable “green” legacy indeed.
On Friday 3 August, US House members will vote on two legislative proposals which aim at reducing America’s dependence on foreign oil by stimulating the use of renewables. The energy package consists of:
- the House Energy Bill, HR 3221, a nearly 800 pages policy document summarised as ” a bill moving the United States toward greater energy independence
and security, developing innovative new technologies, reducing carbon emissions, creating green jobs, protecting consumers, increasing clean renewable energy production, and modernizing our energy infrastructure”
- the House Renewable Energy Tax Bill, HR 2776, a bill providing “tax incentives for the production of renewable energy and energy conservation“.
One of the main objectives of both proposals is to force US power companies to increase the use of renewables (wind, solar, thermal, biomass) for the production of electricity. Now, only 2.3% of electricity is produced from renewable sources in the US. The Senate recently adopted a proposal that set a 15% target for renewables by 2020. A House amendment would set the target to 20%.
Due to a political compromise, the proposals do NOT include stronger fuel economy standards for cars.
In March 2007, the European Union adopted a renewables target of 20% of all energy consumption by 2020.
- Washington Post: Pelosi Gains Support for Energy Bill
- The Oil Drum: The House is poised to debate and pass an energy bill (with comments)
- New York Times Editorial: An Incomplete Energy Bill
I promised to come back to the Transatlantic session held in the EU’s Green Week.
This session, organised by Brussels think-tank Friends of Europe, had two parts: one on a possible Transatlantic joint agenda to tackle climate change and one on the policies of biofuels. I only attended the first part which was all in all rather disappointing with the American speakers in Washington being way too defensive and too humble, a fact I tried to underline during the Q&A round afterwards.
As I have a bit more time and place here to develop my arguments, let me try to explain the points that I made on Thursday.
It is generally believed that the EU is the global “leader” in terms of fighting climate change. It can, of course, not be denied that the EU has fought hard to get the Kyoto Protocol ratified and that it has put in place the world’s most comprehensive emissions trading system for carbon. Nevertheless, I would like to question whether these constant claims of being the “world leader” are not counterproductive in the long term. In negotiations, no adversary wants to hear the argument all the time that “we are the good ones, and you are the baddies”.
Moreover, I think the “leadership” claim is not even correct. It all depends from what point of view you look at the issue. Yes the European rhetoric about climate change is much louder but what about real actions where it really matters. Look at what Governor Schwarzenegger is doing in California and what Michael Bloomberg gas planned for New York. In some ways, what happens in some of the US states and cities is as good if not sometimes even better than what we are doing in Europe.
The Americans are also more aware of the (military) security aspects of the climate change challenge. The recent report by 11 retired army chiefs published by the CNA Corporation is the best proof that the analysis of the problem has an extra dimension in the US which is seriously lacking in Brussels.
That has to do with the fact that in the US the climate change debate is connected to another debate on the future of oil and gas reserves (the “peak oil” debate). The 2005 Hirsch report on the peaking of world oil production and the 2007 GAO report on crude oil are having a major influence on climate change/energy thinking in the US. When will the Commission see the need to undertake a similar “peak oil” report for Europe’s security strategy? Let’s hope the MEPs in the newly elected climate change committee will at least read these US reports.