The Latest Victim of Economic Downturn: Climate Change Policy

October 17, 2008 | | Comments Off on The Latest Victim of Economic Downturn: Climate Change Policy

In the last several weeks, the American media has been inundated with worries about recent economic problems.  President Bush and both presidential candidates, Barack Obama and John McCain, have focused on the effects of the economy on the housing market, spending, taxes, and other domestic issues.  However, the worldwide economic downturn has a much wider impact:  regional and global agreements on climate change may suffer.

Throughout 2007, the European Union took numerous steps toward a regional agreement that would both fulfill and extend beyond the promises made in the Kyoto Protocol.  In December 2007, for instance, the European Commission proposed binding limits on automobile emissions that would impose fines on automobile manufacturers who failed to reduce tailpipe emissions.  The European Union considered this reduction to be one step toward becoming the world leader in cutting carbon emissions.

Following the strong statement in support of taking direct action against carbon emissions, in July 2008, the Group of 8 pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by fifty percent by 2050The G8 further agreed that developing nations, such as China and India, would be included in any future climate change treaty.  At the time of the July 2008 meeting, Jose Manuel, the president of the European Commission, stated that these agreements represented the growing understanding of the importance of protecting the environment, and claimed that there was a strong economic case for dealing with climate change.

Unfortunately, while acting against greenhouse emissions was seen as economically responsible less than six months ago, some European countries now believe that protecting the environment will create an unreasonable economic burden.  The European Union hoped to finalize an agreement to reduce emissions by twenty percent from 1990 levels by 2020, which far exceeds the promises required under the Kyoto Protocol.  During this week’s Summit meeting of the European Union’s heads of state, several Eastern European countries and Italy worried that they might not be able to afford to cut greenhouse gas emissions as much as planned.  On Thursday, the countries with the greatest worries about the plan won a huge battle: the right for any one of the 27 members of European Union to veto the plan.  Additionally, the group refused to set December as the goal for completing negotiations.

The window of time during which Europe may be able to make substantive differences in climate change legislation may be swiftly closing though.  The December deadline was initially intended to provide European countries with the power to negotiate climate change with the new U.S. administration, and the EU could lose this opportunity if the plan is not already developed when Obama or McCain assumes office.  Also, in January 2009 the Czech Republic will become president of the European Union, and numerous European countries are worried that environmental policies will no longer progress under Czech control.  The Czech Republic is divided over climate change and hesitant to take actions to address global warming.

A worldwide economic crisis will affect various domestic issues, but also impacts regional and global agreements related to environmental policy.  Although we are justifiably worried about taxes, the prices of homes, and American workers, we should strive not to lose sight of some of the wider and less predictable impacts of economic problems.  The European Union and other organizations have made declarations and taken positive steps toward addressing climate change, and we should not regress because of the current economic difficulties.

The European Union cannot be expected to unilaterally address climate change.  The new U.S. administration should be prepared to work with other organizations to strengthen environmental regulations while minimizing the economic impact, particularly on developing nations.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Wild-Jungleman.


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