The world is now watching whether the freshly re-elected Obama administration will take renewed interest in tackling climate change, and put some effort into bringing Congress along with him.
This week he signed a bill from Congress aimed at blocking US airlines from complying with EU emissions regulations for flights into and out of the EU. The bill amounts to chest thumping as it provides no new authority to the Administration to take any meaningful steps. In fact, if they did anything with the law it would likely lead to a trade war, a taxpayer funded bailout, or a screeching halt to efforts to secure a global agreement. The EU created the regulations only after its efforts to pursue emissions in ICAO, the UN organization responsible for the aviation sector, came up against "15 years of intransigence and doublespeak," as one informed observer put it.
But the signing of the bill could be water under the bridge if the US now throws its weight behind a strong agreement under ICAO to control emissions from the global aviation sector. There are some signs this could happen. The EU has agreed to suspend its regulations for one year, which should create a more constructive negotiating climate. Upon signing the bill the White House issued a statement that it: “remains focused on making progress in reducing aviation emissions through…the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO)."
An aviation industry body said that Obama's signing expresses "a steadfast commitment to the right way — a global sectoral approach at the international level". That would indeed be good news, as a global agreement on strong measures to control aviation emissions, including to put a price on carbon emissions from the sector, is exactly what is needed. Such a measure can be designed to generate climate finance for developing countries, while addressing equity concerns and respecting the principles of the UNFCCC. Will the US announce support for such a proposal when Mr. Stern arrives?
Will the US declare their intention here in Doha, and then fight for such an agreement at ICAO next year? ECO certainly hopes so.