5th Jul 2020

EU climate chief pessimistic after US visit

  • The Congress: US climate legislation has all-but stalled (Photo: Wikipedia)

EU climate commissioner Connie Hedegaard has ended meetings with her various US counterparts dejected by uncertainty as to whether Washington will be able to pass badly-needed climate legislation in time for a summit Mexico.

"It's very, very nervous times. People don't know, will it fly or will it not fly," she told reporters in the American capital on on Thursday (18 March), a day after she had met with climate special envoy Todd Stern, climate and energy 'tsar' Carol Browner, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Lisa Jackson and a clutch of senators and congressmen.

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"The feeling that I got yesterday was that, well, not too many want to bet on the timing and what could be the outcome," she said.

US legislation in the climate area has all but stalled, with the Obama administration focused on a debate about healthcare and this year's mid-term elections.

Without Washington able to pass laws to match Mr Obama's international greenhouse gas emission reduction pledges, reaching a binding international deal this year by December's UN climate summit in Cancun, Mexico, will be impossible.

"What we hear coming out of the American discussion, coming out of Beijing, coming out of Delhi, maybe also Mexico, [is that] it would be difficult to get all the details set [for such a deal]," the EU commissioner said.

The US has pledged to reduce its emissions by 17 percent on 2005 levels by 2020. Most other powers however, including the EU, use 1990 as the baseline year. Using the same measuring stick, Washington would cut emissions by four percent on 1990 levels by 2020.

If the country cannot achieve even this at the congressional level, the chances of a global deal become ever more unlikely.

The Obama administration does have a plan B, should the bill be defeated.

In 2007, the US Supreme Court ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency, a government regulatory body, has the authority to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. Instead of legislation forcing industry to cap its emissions, the EPA could simply regulate that they must do so.

Asked about the plan B, Ms Hedegaard was not optimistic and feared that the EPA, should it choose to do so in the absence of climate legislation, would almost certainly be faced with a series of lawsuits from enterprises affected by its enforcement of the Clean Air Act.

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