June 29, 2009
After months of tough horse trading the House of Representatives adopted an 1100 page (!) bill aiming at curbing American green house gas emissions. The vote was 219 to 212!
Unfortunately, the bill falls far short of what would be necessary to put the USA into the driver’s seat at the forthcoming climate negotiations in Copenhagen, which will be crucial for the planet’s future:
· The volume of green house gas emissions will at best be brought back to the level of 1990 ( equivalent to 17 percent below 2005), while the EU aims at reducing them by 20 percent below the 1990 base and scientists call upon industrial countries to reduce emissions by 25- 40 percent below 1990!
· The bill contains many weaknesses, loopholes and contradictions, which are bound to undermine its effectiveness, in particular the free allocation of emission rights and the generous possibilities for offsetting green house gas reductions by “substitute” measures, which will be difficult to monitor.
· Its major positive content is the 83 percent reduction target for 2050. But in the long run we are all dead!
The debate has brought into evidence the profound cleavage of US society on long-term sustainability. The vast majority of Republicans fought the bill with ridiculous arguments, pretending that it would be a big job killer and levy a massive energy tax. The US Petroleum Institute, the lobby of the US oil and gas industry, strongly opposed the bill for evident reasons. The US Farm Bureau has succeeded in reducing the commitments falling burden on agriculture, which accounts for seven percent of US green house gas emissions.
On the positive side, Greenpeace and other NGOs tend to reject the bill as absolutely inadequate. And more than three quarters of US citizens back federal regulation of green house gas emissions and half of them declare their willingness to pay an extra $ 120 per year for protecting the climate.
Assuming the bill to pass in the Senate with additional softeners, the USA will be handicapped by climate legislation with timid targets and a weak implementation framework.
This is bound to slow down the international fight against climate change:
· US emissions will only start declining below the internationally agreed reference year of 1990 after 2020!
· China’s zeal to take drastic action will be tempered.
· The EU will not improve its reduction targets to 30 percent reduction, as it had promised to do in case of comparable efforts by other developed countries.
· It will become even more unlikely to contain the rise of average global temperatures within the “agreed” 2° centigrade limit.
In view of these dire consequences Greenpeace rightly asks if it is not preferable for the US President to veto the bill and resort to executive action. The US Clean Air Act empowers the Administration to do so.
Under its authority, the Environment Protection Agency would be able to impose a 20 percent share for renewable power generation, a 20 percent reduction target for green house gases in 2020 (compared to 1990) and a more effective cap and trade regime, which would provide for mandatory auctioning of emission rights, as is the case under EU legislation.
Indeed, humanity should not bear the price of eight precious years lost because of the Bush Administration and its Vice-president Cheney listening to the oil and gas lobby rather than US scientists, who had warned Congress and the Administration since 1988 about the dramatic impact of climate change!
American and European climate policy makers should carefully weigh the options. US climate legislation is too sensitive an affair to be left only to domestic legislators, unable or unwilling to grasp the global implications of their votes.
With the US climate bill, as adopted by the House, it will not be possible to arrive at satisfactory results of the climate negotiations in Copenhagen. President Obama will either have to wield his executive powers for a much more effective climate package or bear the responsibility for a dramatic worsening of global climate conditions in the next decades.
Brussels 29.06. 09 Eberhard RheinAuthor : Eberhard Rhein