Alexander Ochs

America’s Opposite Hand: Germany’s Parties Agree on the Necessity of Environmental Protection and a Green New Deal

 essay  Comments Off on America’s Opposite Hand: Germany’s Parties Agree on the Necessity of Environmental Protection and a Green New Deal
Jul 102009

“The political system pushes the parties toward the middle,” “party homogeneity is rather weak” … in Germany’s antiquated libraries, students might pick up these messages from text books about the U.S. political system. We all know that today’s reality is a different one. Over the last twenty-five years or so, the U.S. electorate has drifted further and further apart. The election of Ronald Reagan marks the beginning of the U.S. drift to the right in the 1980s. The two Bush presidents and even Bill Clinton—“it’s the economy, stupid!”—continued Reagan’s doctrine of the supremacy of a preferably untamed capitalism. The chimera of “the invisible hand of the market” has become an imperative of all political action, and arguably hit the “soft issue” of environmental protection even more than others. The U.S., once an environmental leader—the country with the first national environment plan, the birthplace of the idea of national parks, the place of departure for the global spread of the green movement in early 1970s—became the epitome of subordinating environmental protection under economic priorities.

To be sure, the U.S. in the mid-1980s became a leader in brokering a global treaty for the protection of the ozone layer—after Dupont had claimed the patents for the substitutes of ozone-depleting substances. When TIME magazine chose “Endangered Earth” as Person of the Year 1988, Bush Senior began referring to himself as the environmental president—albeit with limited credibility, the 1990 reform of the Clean Air Act notwithstanding. Clinton chose the greenest senator of all times, Earth in the Balance author Al Gore, as his vice president, but his sublime green agenda for the most part collapsed already in the first few years.

Later on, he signed the Kyoto Protocol but never submitted it to the Senate for ratification because its defeat on the Hill was certain. Then Congress shifted toward a more pro-active stand on climate and green energy in the beginning of this century—mostly because even a Republican majority considered Bush Junior too much of a market radical.

Contract with America: Let ‘em Pollute! Please read my essay for Transatlantic Perspectives here.

The USA on its way to Copenhagen – Perspectives for international climate policy

 online report, presentation  Comments Off on The USA on its way to Copenhagen – Perspectives for international climate policy
Jun 222009

More than 80 participants followed the invitation of the NABU and the Heinrich Böll Foundation on 15 June 2009 in Berlin to discuss with American and German experts key contributions on both sides of the Atlantic to tackle the global climate crisis. Another key point of interest was an assessment of the current state of negotiations of a new global climate pact on which the international community wants to agree at the UN climate conference in the end of this year in Copenhagen.

In the discussion, I emphasized the central Importance of new U.S. energy and climate legislation, the so-called Waxman-Markey Bill, which has already passed important hurdles in the House of Representatives and will be discussed in the Senate later this year – hopefully to be be adopted. Since 1990, U.S. greenhouse gas emissions have risen by about 16 percent. For the US to reduce its emissions by 20 percent compared to 2005 in 2020, as W-M envisions, will be a very remarkable challenge and an effort compatible to the cuurent evrsion of the EU climate and energy package. Critics often suggest that the absolute reductions in WM amount to only 4% compared to 1990. I pointed out, however, that these 4% only include the emission reductions in the  sectors covered by a future emissions trading scheme. Some estimates believe that the entire reduction effort in the US (including non-ETS-covered sectors and offsets) could amount to about -17% in 2020 compared to 1990. Accordingly, the U.S. would reduce its emissions by more than one third compared to total emissions expected in a business as-usual-scenario. Europe aims at reducing emissions by 20% compared to 1990 and has offered a -30% target if other parties commit to a similar level of ambition.

I also pointed to the fact that the American climate debate much more than the one in Europe is fixated on China, because of competitiveness concerns for the U.S. economy. In many cases, these concerns are distorting important facts and are therefore exaggerated. Only recently it has been noted that China already has very ambitious policies inplace to increase energy efficiency and the expansion of renewable energies despite no binding reduction targets under the Kyoto Protocol. I also discussed sectoral approaches as a way to provide additional incentives to abate emissions in energy-intensive industries. Panel guests: Prof. Dr. Miranda Schreurs, Research Center for Comparative Environmental Policy, Free University Berlin; Alexander Ochs, director of international climate policy, Center for Clean Air Policy, Washington DC; Dr. Karsten Sach, Deputy Director General for International Cooperation, Federal Ministry of Environment; Duncan Marsh, director of international climate policy, The Nature Conservancy; Carsten Wachholz, secretary for energy policy and climate protection, NABU.

You can find a German summary of the event here.

CCAP Discusses Views of Carbon Offsetting in the U.S. at Copenhagen Carbon Markets Insights Conference

 online report  Comments Off on CCAP Discusses Views of Carbon Offsetting in the U.S. at Copenhagen Carbon Markets Insights Conference
Apr 022009

from CCAP Newsletter 

On March 18, 2009, Alexander Ochs, CCAP’s director of international policy, discussed “Views on Carbon Offsetting in the United States” at Point Carbon’s Carbon Market Insights Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark.“International offsets like the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) and domestic offsets will likely play an important role in any future U.S. cap and trade program,” Ochs told delegates from around the world. “However, it is important to understand that offsets are only one mechanism that U.S. lawmakers are currently considering in their effort to contain the cost of a federal carbon market. There is also a certain contradiction in the debate between lowering the cost of mitigating emissions on the one hand, and not wanting to send money oversees to make our competitors’ economies more efficient.”Ochs agreed with co-panelist Peter Zapfel from the European Commission that the CDM alone is not sufficient for reducing rapidly growing greenhouse gas emissions in the developing world. “Major emitters like the developing countries China and Mexico must contribute more to the solution than simply offsetting reduction commitments made elsewhere — and they are willing to do so,” Ochs said. “Sectoral commitments for energy-intense industries are the next important step on the staircase to a full integration of these countries into the global carbon market.”

You can find my presentation here: ochs-futureofoffsetsinus_carbonmarketinsights2009.pdf

Transatlantic Climate and Energy Cooperation: The Way Forward

 podcast  Comments Off on Transatlantic Climate and Energy Cooperation: The Way Forward
Nov 232008

Think Tank Analysis: The World Needs a Third Industrial Revolution

 online report  Comments Off on Think Tank Analysis: The World Needs a Third Industrial Revolution
Sep 082008

Feature on, and summary of, my July 2008 study Overcoming the Lethargy: Climate Change, Energy Security, and the Case for a Third Industrial Revolution on Atlantic Community

Faster, Higher, Stronger: China Strives to Become a Climate Champion

 blog  Comments Off on Faster, Higher, Stronger: China Strives to Become a Climate Champion
Sep 012008


When the Olympic fire was set alight during the Games’ opening ceremony, there was a giant wave of smog hanging over Beijing. Like any other day of the year, the air pollution was several times above what the World Health Organization considers safe. Many competitors were so concerned about their personal wellbeing that they restricted their visit to the Ancient City to the days on which they compete, thus missing out on a once-in-a-lifetime chance to inhale the legendary Olympic spirit for the duration of the games. Overpopulation was not amongst the problems the athlete village faced. And however clean, colorful, and crystal-clear the opening ceremonies were – when the cameras conveyed the first images of spectators with masks over their mouths, the hosts’ delight soured rather suddenly. Most of us, however, were not surprised. After all, this is the China we imagine. A political apparatus so keen to receive world recognition and a population so eager to catch up with the wealthy elsewhere have unleashed such a thriving economy that there is no room for environmental concerns, least of all protective regulation.

It is this dusky image of China that has to a large extent shaped our diplomatic attitude towards this rapidly industrializing giant. Nowhere more so than in the United States, the continuous finger-pointing at China has been used as an excuse for not taking more vigorous action on global environmental problems at home. READ THIS EXCLUSIVE OP-ED FOR WWW.ALEXANDEROCHS.COM

Neue Chance gegen globale Erwärmung

 newspaper article  Comments Off on Neue Chance gegen globale Erwärmung
Jun 252008

Tony Blair sucht beim G8-Gipfel den transatlantischen Schulterschluss in der Klimapolitik. Doch Amerika wird sich kaum rühren.

Mit dem Hinweis, der Klimawandel sei für ihn die langfristig wichtigste globale Herausforderung, sagte Tony Blair der globalen Erwärmung den Kampf an. Zusammen mit der Entwicklung Afrikas gilt dem Thema das Hauptaugenmerk des Gipfels der acht größten Industrieländer im schottischen Gleneagles vom 6. bis 8. Juli. Doch während etwa bei der Entschuldung der ärmsten afrikanischen Staaten bereits im Vorfeld Einigkeit erzielt wurde, besteht in der Klimafrage die Spaltung zwischen den Vereinigten Staaten und dem Rest der G8 fort: Der größte Verursacher von Treibhausgasen verweigert unter der Führung von George W. Bush weiterhin jegliche Zusagen zur Emissionsreduzierung – entgegen allen wissenschaftlichen Empfehlungen. DIE ZEIT, 7 Jul 2005

The Climate Changes: Europe Learns to Lead

 Uncategorized  Comments Off on The Climate Changes: Europe Learns to Lead
Mar 012008

At their summit last week, the twenty-seven member countries of the European Union agreed on an impressive package of climate policy targets. The union committed to an overall goal of a 20 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. Bio-fuels in transport must then account for at least 10 percent, and no less than one fifth of EU energy will have to be generated from renewable sources such as wind, solar, biomass and hydro power. The agreement was quickly praised as “groundbreaking” and “bold” by UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, “the most ambitious package ever agreed by any commission or any group of countries on energy security and climate protection” by EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, and as constituting a “new quality of climate policy” and the basis for a “third technological revolution” by German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Politicians’ eulogizing of their own efforts is nothing new in politics, not even in the EU which has not exactly been crowned with success in recent years. Still, for a number of reasons the accord might indeed stand as a remarkable milestone in European diplomatic history.

BLOG, March 2007 (PDF)


The Failures of American and European Climate Policy: International Norms, Domestic Politics, and Unachievable Commitments

 academic article/report  Comments Off on The Failures of American and European Climate Policy: International Norms, Domestic Politics, and Unachievable Commitments
Nov 092007

Climate change has been one of the most contentious issues in the transatlantic relationship. The persistent divide escalated when President Bush abandoned the Kyoto Protocol in early 2001. Since then, the EU has emerged as the most fervent leader of this UN-sponsored treaty while the United States has remained the only major developed country, aside from Australia, to oppose it. Why is that? In light of their many similarities, the sources of the rift between Americans and Europeans are puzzling. With The Failures of American and European Climate Policy, Loren Cass provides the most extensive and well-researched comparative study of United States and European Union atmospheric protection to date. In addition to the EU itself, he focuses on Germany and the United Kingdom, its two most- outspoken members on this issue. The book is precisely and eloquently written. It is a valuable contribution to existing literature on the domestic adoption (or rejection) of international norms. Above all, the book is destined to become essential reading for students of these four political actors, all of which will remain crucial for confronting this century’s most pressing global challenge.

BOOK REVIEW, GLOBAL ENVIRONMENTAL POLITICS, November 2007, Vol. 7, No. 4, Pages 149-151