During his inaugural address on Monday, US President Barack Obama committed himself to a European priority that was shoved to the background during his first term in office: Fighting climate change.
“We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that failure to do so would betray our children and future generations,” Obama said. “Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms.”
Those words were music to the ears of many in Brussels, who had assumed – wrongly, it turns out – that the White House was poised four years ago to join the EU’s campaign to forge an ambitious global climate treaty.
The irony of Obama’s climate pivot is that it was announced on the same day when the price of carbon in the EU’s emissions trading scheme fell to an all-time low, offering a distressing reminder about the disarray in a market that is the centrepiece of Europe’s climate policy.
A wall of resistance from European Union governments and industry stands in the way of the efforts of Connie Hedegaard, the EU’s climate action commissioner, to secure a pledge from the 27-nation bloc to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by even more than it is already committed to doing.
Hedegaard contends that the EU can afford to set itself higher targets, because Europe’s recent recession – the worst in its history – reduced economic activity and so slashed the cost of meeting the goals set in 2008. The EU’s basic target is a 20 per cent cut in emissions by 2020 from 1990 levels. Hedegaard would like to raise the target to 30 per cent, thereby maintaining Europe’s self-image as the frontrunner in world efforts to tackle climate change.