A united Europe has tried its best to encourage the US to do more on climate change, but their leverage on the US Congress remains very limited. 2010 has been a year of disappointment.
The United States, the second-largest emitter of CO2 and a key player in international negotiations, is the primary target of influence for Europeans, who have made climate change a flagship issue. After eight years of frustration under President George W. Bush and one year of patience under President Obama, the EU’s primary objective in 2010 was to see the US pass climate change legislation, including a cap-and-trade scheme.
In spite of nuances in strategy, Europeans were remarkably united in their efforts. Visits on this issue by the Spanish Presidency, EU parliamentarians and the Commissioner for Climate Action Connie Hedegaard were complemented by bilateral efforts at the executive and legislative level (including the UK, Denmark and Ireland). Initiatives towards federal agencies, states and municipalities, the major industries and the general public have been undertaken by France, Germany and the Netherlands, in particular. But the main actor in 2010 – Congress – is also the hardest to influence. In July, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid declared that there would be no legislation in 2010; the results of the mid-term elections ensured that cap-and-trade legislation would have to wait until 2013 at best.
This major setback for Europeans is to some extent compensated by their good relationship with the Obama administration, which is trying to attain its reduction goals through regulation and played a constructive role in the UN negotiations in Cancún. Europeans have also protected the inclusion of all flights to Europe in their Emission Trading Scheme at the International Civil Aviation Organization Assembly, in spite of a challenge by US airlines.
Unfortunately, there is little scope for Europeans to increase their leverage on this issue. Contacts with the executive branch are already dense, and more lobbying on Capitol Hill would rapidly prove counterproductive. Public diplomacy and people-to-people contacts could, however, slightly improve the outlook after the 2012 presidential election.