From Flop’enhagen to Can’tcun? US climate policy before the mid-term elections and the UN summit

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Oct 202010
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co2_climateIt all started so nicely. The hope for change that Barack Obama had raised among American voters was felt by citizens worldwide, including those yearning for a change in US environmental policy. After all, Obama had made global warming and energy policy important cornerstones of his campaign. Once in the White House, the newly elected President explained that “few challenges facing America – and the world – are more urgent than combating climate change” and that his “presidency will mark a new chapter in America’s leadership on climate change.” Repeatedly he stressed that “the nation that wins this competition [for new energy technologies] will be the nation that leads the global economy.”

What’s left, as we approach mid-term elections in Obama’s first administration, is a very mixed bag.  There have been important successes, including over $60 billion that were earmarked for energy efficiency and renewable energy projects as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009; the first tightening of Corporate Average Fuel Efficiency standards in three decades; and the federal Environmental Protection Agency ‘s “Endangerment Finding” that recognizes, as a follow-up of the Supreme Court ruling Massachusetts et al. vs. EPA, that the  agency  has the right to regulate greenhouse gases as air pollutants under the Clean Air Act. To the great disappointment of the environmentalists, however, comprehensive climate and energy legislation, including a market-based system with mandatory economy-wide emission targets as well as strong incentives for the employment of energy efficiency measures and renewable energy technologies, has not been passed.

The situation that has unfolded over the last 1 ½  years is almost absurd. A White House and all involved secretaries and agencies support strong climate policy; a majority of the public wants effective climate action; a thorough climate and energy bill finally passed the House; and then there is also majority support for climate legislation in the Senate – albeit this majority is not filibuster-proof. The Senate’s leadership was unable to get 60+ votes. And here the story ends for now. A minority of 40+ Senators puts a hold on domestic legislation and shuts a historic window of opportunity.

[This article appered in Bridges vol. 27, October 2010. Read the rest of the article here:]

Bye-bye, Klimapolitik der USA

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Aug 052010

Kerry und Reid geben ihre Klimapolitik vorest auf

Erkennbar enttäuscht traten Harry Reid, Mehrheitsführer der Demokraten im US-Senat, und Parteikollege John Kerry, Senator aus Massachusetts und ehemaliger Präsidentschaftskandidat, vor die Kameras. Monatelang hatten sie für eine umfangreiches klima- und energiepolitisches Gesetzespaket gekämpft. Nun gaben sie kleinlaut bei. Man habe die notwendigen Stimmen nicht, um ein Emissionsziel für Treibhausgase festzulegen. 2001 aus dem Kyoto-Protokoll ausgestiegen, seit 20 Jahren der gewichtigste Bremser bei internationalen Klimaverhandlungen, zeichnet sich die nächste Schlappe für amerikanische Klimaschützer ab.

Doch nicht nur für die Umwelt ist die Nachricht eine Katastrophe. Dutzende Studien belegen die positiven Effekte, die die geplante Gesetzgebung auf die US-Wirtschaft, den Arbeitsmarkt, die Gesundheitskosten und die Sicherheitspolitik gehabt hätte. Ganz zu schweigen vom internationalen Renommee, das jetzt den nächsten Kratzer erhält. Die USA zeigen sich immer weniger in der Lage, auf die großen globalen Herausforderungen unserer Zeit tragfähige Antworten zu geben. Schuld daran ist nicht, dass „der Amerikaner“ eben nichts vom Umweltschutz hält. Das Problem ist differenzierter: [weiter zum vollstaendigen Artikel]

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

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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.

From Mars and Venus Down to Earth: Understanding the Transatlantic Climate Divide

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Jun 252008

Josh Busby & Alexander Ochs

We examine the sources of the transatlantic climate divide between the US and Europe. First, we take up the proposition that differences in the material conditions of the US and Europe are responsible for the dustup over global warming. We argue that relative power positions do not determine a nation’s choice of broad climate policy approaches. Moreover, we emphasize that mitigating climate change will ultimately require wrenching policy adjustments for both the US and Europe. While there may be short-run differences in cost profiles, these should not pose such a hindrance that careful policy design cannot overcome them. Next, we evaluate the claim that a difference in values or culture is responsible for the rift. A highly oversimplified version of the argument holds that Europeans just care about climate change more than the Americans. We find evidence for this to be mixed. We suggest that differences between the US and Europe derive not so much from material interests or cultural values but from different political systems that shape the interests and values that have influence on policy. America’s political system permits certain interests—namely climate skeptics and business interests—to exercise veto power over external environmental commitments. European decision makers, by contrast, face environmental movements more capable of exercising influence over electoral politics. The interaction of the two systems internationally has hobbled global climate policy cooperation. Negotiations are complicated by inadequate sensitivity to each other’s internal political conditions. Better understanding of each other’s domestic politics and more careful institutional design of climate change policies may yet overcome these obstacles. 2005 SAIS-BROOKINGS BOOK CHAPTER

Konflikt statt Kooperation? Die transatlantischen Umweltbeziehungen

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Apr 092008

Alexander Ochs & Marcus Schaper

Mit dem Ausstieg der USA aus dem Kyoto Protokoll gerieten die transatlantischen Differenzen im Umweltbereich in die Schlagzeilen. Klimapolitik wird seither häufig an vorderer Stelle genannt, wenn es um das Auseinanderdriften der traditionellen Partner geht. Dabei sind Meinungsunterschiede zwischen Europa und den USA in der Umweltpolitik alles andere als neu. Viele dieser Konflikte bleiben einer breiteren Öffentlichkeit jedoch verborgen, da sie technische Fragen betreffen und auf der wenig prominent besetzten, administrativen Arbeitsebene ausgetragen werden. Dieses Kapitel bespricht drei neuere Beispiele transatlantischer Umweltpolitik. Der internationale Klimaschutz, Umweltstandards für Exportkreditagenturen sowie die Regulierung Genetisch Veränderter Organismen (genetically modified organisms – GMOs) haben sich allesamt als wichtige und äußerst konfliktträchtige Themen im transatlantischen Verhältnis herausgestellt. Dies ist zuvorderst darauf zurückzuführen, dass es sich bei ihnen nicht mehr um den klassischen Naturschutz der Anfangszeit der Umweltpolitik handelt, sondern um politische Querschnittsaufgaben im Rahmen wirtschaftlicher Globalisierung mit enormem Einfluss auf andere Politikbereiche. Es geht um sensible Kosten-Nutzen-Abschätzungen und Absprachen unterschiedlicher Ressorts der Innen- und Außenpolitik.

BOOK CHAPTER in: Jäger, Thomas/Höse, Alexander/Oppermann, Kai (Eds.), Transatlantische Beziehungen, Wiesbaden 2005, p. 235-53


Global Governance and Transatlantic Relations in the Issue Area of Climate Change

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Apr 082008

A transatlantic policy divide has occurred during the last one and a half decades since the Berlin wall came down, the Cold War ended, and there was hope for the pay-off of what was has been called a peace dividend. This hope included widespread optimism that the global society would now be able to focus on new, pressing, non-security challenges which were increasingly global and badly needed worldwide solutions. Seen from today, this hope has not been satisfied. The topic of my presentation here today is “global governance and transatlantic relations in the issue area of climate change”. It is divided in four major blocks: First I will talk about what makes climate change a global governance issue and an issue with great importance for the transatlantic relationship. Then I will briefly explore on where the Atlantic partners lost their joint path and around what the transatlantic differences in the field of climate policy revolve. Thirdly, I will come up with a few theses about why that might have happened, i.e. why the US and Europe have taken different approaches and still hold different views. Finally, I will come up with a few suggestions for how we might be able to renew the Atlantic partnership in this important field.

BOOK CHAPTER in: René Gradwohl & Christoph Pohlmann, Renaissance of Transatlantic Relations – Perspectives of a New Partnership, Berlin 2004: p. 13-21 (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