President Obama on Tuesday presented a “new climate action plan”. Most of it could have come straight from Brussels. But there are some differences with the European approach. The US is not going to back out of fossil fuels and nuclear power. And it pays serious attention at last to mitigation and adaptation.
Obama’s long-awaited “Climate Action Plan” has three pillars:
- to cut “carbon pollution” by putting in place new emission standards
- to prepare the US for the impacts of climate change (by “helping state and local governments strengthen our roads, bridges and shorelines”)
- to“lead international efforts to combat global climate change and prepare for its impacts”
On this last point, important to Europe, the plan announces that the President intends to things like “enhancing multilateral engagement with major economies”, “expanding bilateral cooperation with major emerging economies”, “negotiating global free trade” and “leading efforts to address climate change through international negotiations”. Did Obama take his cue from the EU? The plan even boasts that “the US has made historic progress in the international climate negotiations during the past four years”. Didn’t Connie Hedegaard claim something like that after Copenhagen?
But there is more to the plan than these three “pillars”. Most of it also sounds quite EU-like. For example, the plan sets a goal to double generation from renewable energy from the current share by 2020. (It already doubled during the first term of his presidency.) It wants to do this by “accelerating clean energy permitting” and “expanding and modernizing the electric grid”. The plan also sets a new, tougher goal for energy efficiency standards and wants to “reduce barriers to investment” in energy efficiency.
A lot of what’s in Obama’s “new” plan is not very new at all. For example, it makes mention of “increasing fuel economy standards”for heavy-duty vehicles”, but those standards were already announced in 2011. The same goes for greenhouse gas emissions in general. In 2009 Obama already made a commitment for the US to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 17% in 2020 compared to 2005. This has been left unchanged in the new climate plan.
What is different from the EU approach is that Obama’s plan unreservedly backs nuclear power, “clean coal”, biofuels and the development of unconventional gas. Clearly the US is not going to back away from nuclear and fossil fuels. What is also striking is that a large part of the plan is devoted to mitigation and adaptation to climate change. This no doubt reflects the extreme weather events that the US has suffered from over the past few years.
Here is a link to the full text.
Christop Frei, Secretary General of the World Energy Council, said in a reaction to the plan that he “welcomes the comments made by President Obama. In particular it is important to recognise that as the world embarks on a massive transformation in its energy system the trade in green goods and services must not be hindered by any trade distortions. Countries and regions need to recognise that we will all benefit from a level playing field in respect of tariffs and subsidies. Such an approach will reduce the massive cost involved in this transformation and encourage the take-up of the much needed new technologies to deliver a more diversified energy mix thus helping to reduce the impacts of greenhoue gas emissions. “
Connie Hedegaard, the EU’s Climate Commissioner, was more muted in her response. She said: “Internationally, the White House plan contains a number of good intentions which have now to be translated into more concrete action”, according to Reuters.