It’s quite amazing to think that the same year the European Commission issued its guidelines, the World Bank had released its own report on sustainable development, and the UN had issued its own guidelines on the topic of climate change. The year 2007 was a year of paradigm shifts, and the focus on climate change would be no exception.
In the last decade, climate change became a household word, seen by many as a reality that needed to be tackled. With oil prices skyrocketing due to the increasing demand and costs of oil production, concerns about the increasing demand for bio fuels due to the growing industrial needs of developing countries, and the increasing demand for consumer goods from expanding economies made climate change a topical topic of discussion. The EU has been at the forefront of these discussions, aiming to secure a 20% reduction in emissions by 2020.
The Copenhagen Accord was a landmark agreement in the climate change debate, as it set out a legally binding framework for nations to work together in order to make a change. The agreement would see the creation of a new international fund, with the goal of reducing greenhouse gases by at least 40% below 1990 levels by 2020. Developing countries like China and India have pledged to take action as well, with pledges of efforts that would yield $100 billion a year. The United States was the lone holdout, unwilling to enter into an agreement that removed the incentive for companies to move jobs and production overseas. The disappointment from the US rippled outward, with several developing nations canceling planned emissions cuts in an effort to get America to reconsider. This left the developed world with an opening to enter into an agreement.
Copenhagen talks continued, with a renewed sense of urgency to reach an agreement. The hope remained that by signing an agreement, a new trend could be seen in the rate of cutting emissions. There was hope that signing an agreement could attract businesses, like technology transfer from rich to poor nations, incentives for cleaner technologies, and a financial mechanism to make the cuts stick. Many scientists predicted dire consequences if climate change were to escalate, as rising temperatures could cause more violent storms, sea-level rises could lead to massive flooding, and hotter temperatures would cause famine and starvation. Even with these predictions, many nations continued to resist the idea of signing on to an agreement.
But US President Barak Obama insisted that the agreement be signed, as it was the only way the US could meet the reductions goal. The United States had already been in discussions with China, India, Japan, the European Union, and developing countries, on a cap-and-trade system for carbon emissions. Negotiations dragged on for years, until the United States and China finally reached an agreement on a carbon emissions trading scheme.
That led to the first meeting of the Kyoto Protocol, which met in December 1997, and formally started the treaty. In March 2009, the Kyoto Protocol opened its doors to new signatories, with a first batch of 36 countries joining the treaty. However, the United States, which signed the treaty in 1997, did not formally join the protocol until May 2009, three months after the meeting in Copenhagen. The United States and China, however, began discussions on an emissions trading system in 2009.
The United States had promised in 2008 to reduce its emissions by 26 percent to 28 percent by 2025. However, in a speech in September 2009, Barack Obama said the country would go beyond that, and would reduce its emissions enough to satisfy them by 80 percent by 2050. This could lead to some climate change critics to conclude that the US had broken its 2008 pledge.
The United States also set its own target of reducing emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. However, after considering a very ambitious 30 percent emissions cut by 2050, the White House decided on a 16 percent cut by 2020.
Nevertheless, the United States was still on track to meet its target by 2012. The target was met by December 2011, when emissions were at 5 percent above 2005 levels. The plan also calls for the increase of carbon trading in the United States by 2017.
The United States’ carbon trading program was opened in 2007, just when the Copenhagen meeting was taking place. The US carbon trading scheme now involves all kinds of carbon emission sources, from large industrial plants to smaller fossil fuels. Many questions arise about the scheme’s fairness. Are power plants and other large emitters unfairly profiting from the scheme, when their emissions are reduced in the United States? Does the scheme unfairly reward energy efficient devices and appliances, since they emit much less carbon than their more expensive counterparts? And how will the scheme be paid for, since the carbon trading revenue will only be available once the United States has met its target by 2020?
However, while these questions linger, the United States has moved forward with the implementation of its scheme.
The United States – As the world’s largest polluter and contributor to global warming – will need to take the lead in the drive towards cleaner energy. And so the United States has set an ambitious climate pledge for itself, requiring a 40 percent cut in carbon emissions by 2050. The move comes just as China and India have pledged similar emissions cuts.
But although the United States has been the world’s biggest carbon emitter, its pledge is not as ambitious as that of European countries, and is far below the original goal of keeping the rise in temperatures below 2 degrees Celsius. Indeed, the United States will need to speed up its environmental planning if it wants to match European commitment by 2012.