News

Obama victory offers climate hope

AFP

One of Barack Obama's first tasks will be to lead the United States back into the heart of the global debate on climate change, ending the country's years of isolation and scepticism.

Barack Obama

Don't expect everything at once: Analysts caution those who believe Obama's win will completely smash the deadlock gripping a new UN deal on greenhouse gases.

Credit: AFP

- Advertisement -

One of Barack Obama's first tasks will be to lead the United States back into the heart of the global debate on climate change, ending the country's years of isolation and scepticism.

His victory will spark intense relief among negotiators in Europe and Asia. Obama has pledged nothing less than a demolition of the policies that since March 2001 have left America friendless and at times a pariah on the issue of global warming.

Repairing the damage

But analysts caution those who believe Obama's win will now smash the deadlock gripping a new U.N. deal on greenhouse gases.

On one side, Obama has to swiftly persuade the world that his country is now keen on tackling its colossal emissions of heat-trapping carbon. But he also has to deal with the lengthy post-inauguration processes in Washington – and secure support for emissions curbs when millions of Americans are worried by their country's sick economy.

"There is an idea in some parts of the world that the U.S. will get re-engaged and that will solve everything, but it will still be a difficult process," said Reid Detchon, executive director of climate and energy at the U.N. Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation that supports the role of the United Nations.

When President George W. Bush walked out of the Kyoto Protocol, the cornerstone U.N. accord on cutting carbon pollution, he dealt a nearly lethal blow to efforts to resolve the world's most urgent environmental problem through global negotiation.

Sweeping away the Bush legacy

Progress to craft a more ambitious successor to Kyoto beyond 2012 has been stymied by a standoff between the United States and the developing giants. Bush loathes Kyoto-style caps on emissions, saying these measures are too costly for the U.S. economy and unfair if fast-growing polluters escape similar constraints.

The emerging economies, though, argue that the historical blame for today's warming lies with countries that powered their rise to prosperity by burning oil, gas and coal. In a world still driven by fossil fuels, tough obligations on emissions would threaten their rise from poverty, they argue.

Obama – in his election manifesto, at least – would sweep away the pillars of Bush's climate legacy. He would set a goal of reducing U.S. emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 and by 80 per cent by 2050, using a cap-and-trade system and a 10-year program worth $150 billion in renewable energy research and deployment.

Single page view