Rhein on Energy and Climate

Everybody interested in the survival of the planet should pin his eyes and ears on Washington, April 26th. On that day a bi-partisan group of senators will release a new climate bill amending the 2009 House bill that had no chance to pass the Senate due to adamant resistance from conservative circles and States with strong coal interests.

Nobody should expect miracles from the new bill. It will not change an iota in the green house gas reduction target of 17 percent for 2020 over 2005 (minus 3 percent over 1990!), which is also the target of the Administration.

For the second biggest emitter country with per capita emissions of 20 tons, five times the global average, this target is not good enough. Implicitly the USA invites the international community to forget its refusal to ratify the Kyoto Protocol more than 10 years ago.

The USA therefore does not deserve any praise for passing this legislation; it only does what it should have done many years ago; and it does so inadequately.

Having been prepared in close touch with the Administration, President Obama will do everything in his power to get it passed by the end of November, just in time for the Cancun climate Conference. If passed the USA will be able to put in place the regulations and machinery, including cap and trade, for putting a lid on fossil energy consumption; and countries like Canada or Australia can no longer hide behind US inaction.

This is the positive side of the coin.

Anyhow there is not much the EU can do to fundamentally change the US approach. But it should use the next months to convince the Congress and the Administration of the need to make the legislation truly effective and to avoid an inflation of loopholes.

Nothing should prevent the Administration from encouraging energy efficiency and renewable energies that would enable the country to reduce emissions by more than a 17 percent 2020. It is not the targets that matter but the results.

And it would be equally helpful for the bill to fix an emission target in the order of 35 percent over 2005 for 2030.

In parallel, the EU should consult intensively on the positions to be taken during the preparations for the Cancun Conference. Only if the EU, Japan and the USA, which jointly account for almost half of global emissions, combine their efforts and come up with constructive and pragmatic proposals is there a reasonable chance for the international community to conclude, some time in 2011, and an effective international climate agreement.

Brussels 17.04 10 Eberhard Rhein

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