The recent release of the Clean Power Plan by EPA earlier this month was considered a major move in environmental policy. At least, in the U.S. it was. However, as a foreign policy website, we know that the greater issue is in how the plan compares on the international stage. Global Climate Change is, of course, global. Is the Clean Power Plan truly an “unprecedented outreach effort?” How does cutting down on our our coal stacks stack up against the precedent set by Europe?
Historically, the US has played a varied role in the international climate change regime. America led the world halting ozone depletion with its influence in the success of the 1985 Vienna Convention and the 1987 Montreal Protocol. However, a visible shift occurred between European and American environmental priorities at the signing of the UNFCCC in 1992. Where the EU advocated for a policy of early action and emerged as leader, America questioned the validity of the science on human-induced global warming and speculated that legally binding greenhouse gas reductions could cause social and economic strain. These differences provided a clear predictor for future trends of US and EU environmental policy.
The failure of the US to implement the Kyoto Protocol is often cited as an ideal example of American unilateralism. Since then, the U.S. has proven unable to independently pass a carbon cap and trade bill, or any other significant environmental legislation. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, signed by President Obama, appropriated over $60 billion towards clean energy investments although the bill did not state it was meant to address global climate change. The Clean Power Plan aims to cut carbon pollution from the power sector by 30% below 2005 levels by 2030 in addition to reducing particle pollution, nitrogen oxides, and sulfur dioxide by more than 25%.
Comparably, European Union greenhouse gas emissions fell 18% below the original 1990 levels from 1990 to 2011, overachieving its first Kyoto emissions targets by a wide margin. The EU then announced its new goal to reduce emissions by 20% by 2020 and even offers to up the reduction to 30% if “other major economies agree to undertake their fair share of a global emissions reduction effort.” Where 9.81% of America’s overall energy consumption comes from renewable energy sources, 12.5% of the EU’s energy comes from renewables and is set to increase to 20% by 2020. At $50.8 billion, America ranked third in terms of total renewable energy investment for 2011 compared to China’s $52.2 billion and Europe’s $101 billion commitment.
Could future success of The Clean Power Plan help demonstrate to Europe and the rest of the planet the long-awaited initiative on the part of the US to take up its “fair share?” To supplement the EPA announcement, President Obama pledged further action this past Saturday during his commencement address at UC Irvine. The President criticized members of Congress who reject climate change science and announced the creation of a $1 billion competitive fund designed to “help communities prepare for the impacts of climate change and build more resilient infrastructure across the country.” While these collected efforts may very well be an unprecedented step for the U.S., some argue that they provide more P.R. than promise as they account for only a drop in the bucket needed to significantly decrease global greenhouse gas emissions.
4N Policy Now is a non- partisan, non-biased organization. All of the views expressed in the content published on this site are the sole opinions of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of 4N Policy Now.