There is no doubt that the result of the US elections will dramatically change not only the US stance on climate change policy, but will also impact on international efforts to combat the problem. On 19 November 2008, President-elect Barack Obama renewed his promise to make a decisive break with George Bush on the environment, using a summit convened by Arnold Schwarzenegger to promise a new direction for America's leadership on climate change. Speaking at the international climate change summit, Obama assured his audience that, once he took office, they could be "sure that the United States will once again engage vigorously in these negotiations and help lead the world toward a new era of global cooperation on climate change."

OBAMA'S ENERGY POLICIES

The Obama-Biden 'New Energy for America plan' was outlined during the election campaign and aims to:

  • "provide short-term relief to American families facing "pain at the pump";
  • help create five million new jobs by strategically investing $150bn over the next ten years to catalyse private efforts to build a clean energy future;
  • within 10 years, save more oil than [the US] currently imports from the Middle East and Venezuela combined;
  • put one million American built, Plug-In Hybrid cars, capable of 150 miles per gallon on the road by 2015;
  • ensure 10 percent of [US] electricity comes from renewable sources by 2012, and 25 percent by 2025;
  • implement an economy-wide cap-and-trade program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050.

US legislation on climate change is set to become far more ambitious than previous Bills have endeavoured. Obama's policy statement lays out a very clear plan of action beginning with the targets aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050. Obama also reiterated the introduction of a federal cap and trade system rationing the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that businesses emit by issuing them with permits.

A report published in February 2008 by New Carbon Finance, a leading carbon market analysts, shows that an American cap-and-trade system based on current proposals in the US Congress, could be in place by 2012-2013 and could reach a market value of 1 trillion dollars by 2020.

The white paper of New Carbon Finance also provides a good overview of the emerging US carbon politics. More than half of all US states have already committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and no less than 13 Federal Bills are circulating in the Congress to address global warming through domestic action.

IMPACT INTERNATIONALLY

Against a backdrop of flourishing climate programs at the state level, the prospect of a US President signing Federal legislation on climate change looks very promising. Looking to an international level, at the very least, the new US administration has publicly committed to being part of the international negotiations to agree a successor to the Kyoto Protocol next year.

According to Energy Business Review, the fact that President Barack Obama has pledged $150bn of investment to set in motion a renewable energy transformation in the US over the next 10 years is likely to have been well received by those international companies with a stake in renewables, including BP and Shell. Given these signals, companies are likely to continue increasing their investment in low carbon technologies, voluntarily and for compliance purposes, despite the turbulent investment landscape, attracting private sector investment to the US.

CLIMATE CHANGE AND THE CREDIT CRISIS

The current US administration in waiting is reinforcing the notion of low-carbon prosperity as a way of tackling the credit crisis and energy security issues, and this is set to strengthen renewable investment levels, despite the bleak economic outlook.

According to Obama "[Renewable] investment will not only help us reduce our dependence on foreign oil, making the United States more secure, and it will not only help us bring about a clean energy future, saving our planet, it will also help us transform our industries and steer our country out of this economic crisis by generating five million new green jobs that pay well and can't be outsourced".

In the last two years, the US Federal and State level legislative climate change landscape has become broader, deeper and more complex. However, with the newly-elected President, the US climate change landscape is clearly shifting as efforts get underway to bolster carbon reductions while encouraging the development of renewable technologies.

At the Californian climate change summit, Obama reiterated "now is the time to confront this challenge once and for all. Delay is no longer an option. Denial is no longer an acceptable response. The stakes are too high. The consequences too serious."