Climate Policies in the EU and US: Different Approaches, Convergent Outcomes?

Written by | Thursday, January 14th, 2016
European Values

Gregor Erbach (European Parliamentary Research Service)

The European Union and the United States have been able to significantly reduce harmful emissions in recent years. This has been achieved despite the fact that both sides have used quite different approaches. The Union follows the comprehensive legal framework that sets binding targets for each Member State on the basis of mutual agreement, while the United States has not adopted any nationwide regulation that would deal with climate protection in the last ten years. The US environmental policy thus mainly draws on the activities of the President and national governments on the basis of existing legislation. Both the EU and the US are signatories of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. The Union and its Member States have committed themselves to a further reduction of the emissions under the Kyoto Protocol, which the US refused to ratify while hinting that Washington would not accept any new international commitment to reduce emissions.

The current US President Barack Obama called the fight against climate change as one of the priorities of his presidential mandate. In his environmental campaign, he cannot, however, rely on the support of the Congress because members of the President’s Democratic Party are in the minority in both chambers. Shortly after assuming office, Obama vowed that the United States would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent by 2020 compared to 2005, if the emission reduction is embraced also by other major world economies. This promise was later followed by the introduction of an action plan in which the President defined its objectives and obligations more precisely. Individual states play a pivotal role in the US environmental policy, whereby more than 30 of them accepted their own obligations that go beyond the federal ones.

In contrast, EU Member States unanimously pledged that by 2020 they would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent and by 2030 even by 40 percent below the 1990 levels. The United States and the European Union have also concluded several bilateral and multilateral agreements with other, often developing countries, in which they commit themselves to work together to create a more environmentally friendly economy. Thus, although the ways of reducing emissions, which have been chosen by the US, are in many respects different from those of the EU, both players have eventually succeeded in their efforts. Achieving the objectives set for 2020 will, however, be more difficult to accomplish for the US than for the EU, mainly because of the obstacles in a more uniform federal coordination.

(The study can be downloaded here: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/thinktank/en/document.html?reference=EPRS_BRI(2015)571347)

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