By Benedict De Meulemeester on 19/05/2009
It looks like the US is definitely heading towards emission trading. US Congress is preparing to pass a bill that would introduce a cap-and-trade system to abate climate change in the world's largest emitter of carbon dioxide. The fact that congressmen from states with huge stakes in coal production have supported the bill, looks like a firm indicator that this bill might pass. If it does, Obama will deliver the kind of change that the Climate Change community expected from him. He will have brought his country to adopt a policy that is in line with what most people from other countries consider to be acceptable. Whatever the details of the actual system and its targets, this is indeed changing the world's approach to climate change. Just consider what an immense difference this is with the previous administration where energy policy was written by representatives of the energy industry.
Mr. Obama might have an unique opportunity to bring about a fundamental change in the American society. So far the US was the only country in the world that didn't manage to fuel its growth by using its energy more efficiently. In the American mindset energy consumption was expected to grow in a linear fashion to overall economic growth. American cars in 2000 were no more fuel efficient than they were in 1980. On the contrary, Americans started driving around in gas-guzzling military vehicles in city environments! As prices rose to record levels, US citizens have started to understand the irrationality of this behavior. Since 2008, the US has started to consume less oil. And even if prices have fallen recently, the economic crisis supports this evolution towards a more fuel efficient society. The fact that the US car manufacturers have such big problems shows that the US consumers are no longer willing to accept the thrifty fuel-spending behavior their models try to lure them into.
The discussions on the US emission trading policy sound very familiar to me, and make me think of 2003 - 2004 when the details of the EU policy were hammered out:
The details of US emission trading will become clear in the next months. Policymakers will have the advantage of being able to look at the EU system for lessons learned. They might consider the following:
Talking about these flaws in the EU emission trading system brings me to the last remark. The initiatives of the Obama administration might inspire the modesty EU policymakers need to cure the ills of their system. In the future: they will no longer be able to use the argument 'at least we are doing something about climate change', as a response to criticism about the EU system. Let's hope that the US system works better, so that they are forced to adapt ours.