Key Actors in International Climate Cooperation
New Horizons in Environmental Politics series
Edited by Guri Bang, Arild Underdal and Steinar Andresen
Chapter 8: The United States: Obama’s push for climate policy change
The position of the United States in international climate negotiations has for 25 years been one of caution due to lack of a comprehensive federal climate policy. What are the drivers and barriers for realizing the Obama administration’s proposed climate policy changes? The USA is the world’s second biggest emitter of GHGs, with ample domestic coal, shale gas and shale oil reserves. Increased use of natural gas replacing coal in the power sector resulted in declining levels of energy-related CO2 emissions from 2009 onwards. Deep reliance on fossil fuel energy, in combination with intense polarization between Republicans and Democrats on climate policy issues, strong opposition to climate action from key stakeholder groups, and lack of public pressure to act on the problem are the most important barriers to an ambitious domestic climate policy in the United States. Despite these profound barriers, the Obama administration proposed significant changes in the approach to climate change policy. Obama used his executive powers to develop new regulations aimed at cutting CO2 emissions through existing law. As a result, state-specific CO2 regulations for power plants are being developed for the first time in the USA. While public pressure for more federal climate action has slowly increased in step with the recovery of the US economy after the financial crisis, deep disagreements that have dominated US climate policy deliberations among federal law-makers over the past 20 years persist.
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