Climate change is a problem which US science has significantly helped to bring to the world's attention. It now requires initiatives in US domestic policy for even the first steps towards any realistic global resolution of this problem. This paper addresses three questions: (1) How has US climate policy evolved since climate change became an international political concern in the late–1980s?; (2) what is the relative significance of various factors, both domestic and international, in shaping this evolution?; and (3) what are some likely future scenarios for the climate regime and the role of the US under the new Bush (Jr.) administration? This analysis suggests that the US has generally played a cautious, even blocking role on the international arena, although the period between 1992 and 1997 witnessed a rather uneven march towards progressivism, culminating in the US agreeing to a 7% cut in its greenhouse emissions by 2008–2012 under the Kyoto Protocol. US policy during the Bush (Sr.) and Clinton administrations was primarily shaped by powerful ideologues, while a second critical determinant was the constitutional separation of powers between the executive and legislature. Scientific assessments and international negotiations meanwhile have given climate change unusual stamina on the domestic agenda, while the preferred set of policy responses has been constrained by a national culture that gives primacy to the market over the state. Looking into the future, the recent one-two punch delivered by President George W. Bush in reversing his pledge to regulate carbon dioxide followed by a rejection of US commitments under the Kyoto Protocol renders any expectation of measures to reduce domestic emissions unrealistic, and is likely to cripple the treaty in its present form. The possibility of an alternate to the Kyoto Protocol also appears very remote at this time. However, while official action is unlikely, it is possible that the growth of US greenhouse emissions might be reduced in the near future due to offsetting factors such as a widely expected economic slowdown.
Energy & Environment – SAGE
Published: Mar 1, 2001