Unifying the West on Climate Change

WASHINGTON, DC – President Barack Obama has called climate change one of the most important challenges of our time, and is pressing forward with domestic cap-and-trade legislation while fully re-engaging the United States in United Nations negotiations.

But this changed attitude does not mean that the US and the European Union will now agree on how to tackle climate change. Despite a convergence of long-term goals – around an 80% reduction in carbon-dioxide emissions by 2050 – substantial hurdles remain, and real leadership will be required on both sides to avoid the kind of breakdown in Copenhagen that was only narrowly averted in Kyoto in 1997.

So what are the main potential sticking points?

First, it must be understood that the EU and the US start from very different points in the race to reduce emissions. When the then 15-nation EU ratified the Kyoto Protocol, it pledged to cut CO2 emissions by 8% from 1990 levels by 2012. With the US outside the Kyoto process, its emissions of greenhouse gases increased by 19% from 1990 to 2005, whereas the EU-15’s emissions rose by 8% during that period, above the Kyoto targets but well below the US total.