EU and US Rapprochement on Climate Change

July 21, 2009 - 1 Comment

I have just returned from Washington D.C., and it is refreshing to see an era of closer cooperation between the U.S. and Europe, not to mention the rest of the world, on climate change. As the U.S. delayed meaningful action on climate change for the past 15 years, the EU has set an ambitious target to reduce member states’ CO2 emissions by 20% from 1990 levels by 2020 — the so-called 20/20/20 initiative. The EU also created the European Trading System (ETS), the world’s first platform for trading of carbon credits. By placing climate change high on his domestic and foreign policy agendas, President Obama has changed the dynamics of climate discussions with the EU and in global climate negotiations, generally. His administration is fully re-engaged in UN negotiations and, along with Congress, is moving forward with domestic cap-and-trade legislation. Domestic legislation would impose mandatory caps on U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and set a target to cut emissions by 17% by 2020 and 83% by 2050 compared to 1990 levels. The recent economic stimulus package includes $15bn for alternative energy development, more fuel efficient cars and a “smart grid” to bring them together. The US and European are taking different approaches to solving global warming. While the Obama Administration presents reducing greenhouse gas emissions in terms of opportunities through the power of technology and the creation of a green economy, the EU is mainly focused on shorter-term opportunities to conserve, reining in electricity consumption and using less fuel by driving less and using more fuel-efficient, smaller cars, etc.There is, however, a convergence of EU and U.S. long-term goals on climate change, and this is good news.This was recently evidenced in Italy with the G8 leaders agreeing that rich nations should cut GHG emissions by 80% by 2050, while the world overall should reduce them 50% by 2050. The leaders also agreed to try to limit global warming to just 2C (3.6F) above pre-industrial levels. For the 16 countries responsible for 80% of carbon emissions to recognize even one marker of failure — a rise in temperature — is impressive. Political hurdles will certainly arise along the way, and leadership will be required to avoid a breakdown in Copenhagen in December. Coordinated efforts between the U.S. and EU to secure meaningful commitments from key developing countries like China and India would help ensure that the Copenhagen talks are succssful. Last year, China overtook the U.S. as the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, and President Obama is under pressure from the U.S. Congress to get China to agree to an emissions cap in order for a climate change bill to pass the Senate.Despite negative reports by some analysts on the outcome of the G8 meeting, I believe that the G8 declaration showed some good progress leading up to the Copenhagen summit. In witnessing such strong transatlantic cooperation and agreement on climate policy at the G8 meeting, I am more optimistic that the complicated political bargaining and trade-offs ahead of the Copenhagen meeting just might result in a meaningful post-Kyoto agreement.

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  1. Here is an example where govt could use tele-meeting and other technology to reduce cost and the carbon foot print.