US Still Undecided, International Agreement on Climate Treaty Seems Unlikely in 2009

  • Published on June 12th, 2009

It seems unlikely that an agreement on the terms of the next climate treaty could be reached at the December-scheduled Copenhagen talks. The United States, not a member of the Kyoto Protocol and one of the major players in the international negotiations tussle over the climate treaty, has not yet reached a consensus over how to reduce carbon emissions and a bill successfully passing through the Senate in 2009 seems quite difficult.


The major issues that US lawmakers need to look into are, first, how to make the transition from carbon-intensive fossil fuels to clean renewable energy sources and, second, how to finance this transition without burdening the people with any significant monetary load.

The proposed carbon trading scheme has attracted criticism from the environmentalists since it allows the government to distribute emission permits to the industries free of cost. A bill proposing a nationwide carbon tax was also introduced in the US Congress but experts fear that, if implemented, the bill would put a financial burden of more than $1000 per year on the US households.

Power plants generating electricity through coal will have to be replaced with plants using renewable energy resources but that would again come at a significantly high cost given the infrastructure costs related to setting up large scale solar and wind energy farms. In addition, transforming, upgrading and getting the existing grid ready for these new power plants will demand enormous amounts of monetary influx.

Many lawmakers are pushing for nuclear power to be included in the climate bill since it is one of the most economical sources of energy. However, they are at conflict of ideas with the environmentalists who argue that the nuclear waste that would be generated from these nuclear plants will pose serious management issues given the fact that President Obama wants to close the Yucca Mountain storage facility. Furthermore, the increase in number of nuclear power plants would also poses national security issues.

Lawmakers coming from states where fossil fuels are a major part of the state economy are hesitant in giving their support to a bill which, to them, seems biased in favor of renewable energy. The there is the issue of biofuels. The Obama administration has clearly stated that biofuels will be part of the new energy plans of the country but there have been consistent international calls from scientists and environmentalists that biofuels can severely damage the ecosystem.

All these issues are making it difficult for the officials to come up with a definite goal for reducing carbon emissions by 2020. While President Obama has declared the target of 14 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, the world seeks a more ambitious target from the United States, something close to the target issued by UNFCCC in its guidelines – 25 to 40 percent.

Without the United States’ the new climate treaty would be impossible, and even if it does happen it would prove largely ineffective since the developing countries wouldn’t be a part of it. The US Energy Secretary has stated that in order to tackle the problem of climate change his country needs to work as a leader. But that seems unlikely until the lawmakers get together.

Image: Storm Crypt (Creative Commons)

About the Author

currently works as Head-News & Data at Climate Connect Limited, a market research and analytics firm in the renewable energy and carbon markets domain. He earned his Master’s in Technology degree from The Energy & Resources Institute in Renewable Energy Engineering and Management. He also has a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Engineering. Mridul has a keen interest in renewable energy sector in India and emerging carbon markets like China and Australia.