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Climate change

nk/rm, dpa/Reuters/AFPApril 27, 2009

Europeans hope the US will break the deadlock over climate change negotiations by making concrete and ambitious pledges to cut carbon emissions.

A stock market index against the backdrop of the sun and wind turbines
Failing to deal with climate change could cost the world far more than the economic crisisImage: AP/DPA

The world's biggest greenhouse gas emitters have gathered in Washington for two days of climate talks. The meeting will bring together diplomats from the world's 17 largest economies, including German Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel.

The April 27-28 talks are the latest in a series of meetings meant to jump-start climate talks in advance of a December deadline, when the international community meets in Copenhagen to find a follow-up agreement to the Kyoto Protocol, which limits greenhouse gas emissions and expires in 2012.

Europe pushing for US carbon reduction targets

Europe, disillusioned with the environmental policy of the previous US administration, has in particular been looking for new US leadership on fighting climate change. European leaders were often exasperated by Washington's failure to commit to climate change targets, especially because Europe has set itself ambitious goals.

German environment minister Sigmar Gabriel
German environment minister Sigmar Gabriel hopes the US will reduce carbon emissionsImage: picture-alliance/ dpa

EU nations have agreed to cut their greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent by 2020 from 1990 levels, rising to 30 percent if the rest of the developed world -- mainly the United States and Japan -- agrees to do so.

While US President Barack Obama has promised to "be an active partner in the Copenhagen process and beyond", the US emissions reduction pledges have so far stopped short of the EU goals.

The US House of Representatives recently received a draft bill for clean energy development which aims to cut carbon emissions by 20 percent from their 2005 levels by 2020 and boost reliance on renewable sources of energy.

Should the draft bill face too much opposition or watering down, Obama's administration may still be able to bypass Congress in regulating carbon emissions, by ruling through its Environmental Protection Agency that greenhouse gases threaten US air quality and public health.

That decision must be submitted for public comment for 60 days before being finalized, and would allow the government to regulate industry emissions of six greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide, under existing clean air laws without additional congressional approval. However, the White House has said it would prefer to wait for lawmakers to agree on a way forward.

Planned carbon cuts may be insufficient

Although the US targets were unheard of before Obama took over from his predecessor George W. Bush, they were only given a cautious welcome in Europe because the base year for comparisons is 15 years after that of the EU.

A man walks across a dried up lake in China
Developing countries need more money to deal with the effects of climate changeImage: AP

The Europeans hope Washington will be prepared to shoulder more of the burden since the new US goals would represent just a five to six percent reduction using the EU's baseline of 1990, according to EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas.

German Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel has also expressed hope that the US will commit to more ambitious and binding climate targets, adding that large developing nations such as China, India, Brazil and South Africa would only be prepared to make an effort themselves if Washington took the lead.

While the world is waiting for what Washington may pull out off the hat, concerns over the effects of global warming are rising persistently with environmentalists and climate experts warning that even the targets envisaged by the EU may not suffice to effectively combat climate change.

Citing the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the UN's top climate change official, Yvo de Boer, has warned that rich nations must aim for carbon pollution cuts of up to 40 percent by 2020 compared with 1990 levels.

Although environmentalists and experts have warned that insufficient action will cost the global economy far more dearly than concrete measures now, the debate on how to pay for alleviating the effects of global warming is far from over.

Euro currency symbol against the backdrop of cars and smoking industial chimneys
Industrialized countries are reluctant to pledge additional funds to combat climate changeImage: Picture-Alliance /dpa/DW

According to EU estimates, 175 billion euros (232 billion dollars) will have to be spent each year up to 2020 to mitigate those effects, half of it by developing countries. The bloc's environment ministers agreed in March to use revenues from carbon credit auctions to mitigate the effects of climate change.

However, against the backdrop of the economic crisis, EU officials have been reluctant to put forward the 27-member bloc's financial pledge before other big players present their commitments. Environmentalists have likened this approach to the chicken and egg problem, urging all participants to put their cards on the table immediately and not wait for others to do so first.