Europe and America still out of step on climate change policy: role reversal

Eight years ago, European elites reacted with puffed-up outrage when the new U.S. president, George W. Bush, decided he wouldn’t ask the Senate to ratify the Kyoto Treaty. Though Bush’s decision was based on sound energy policy and sounder politics (see article), the euro-elites haughtily struck him off their Christmas list, permanently. Most have yearned for the day when he leaves office. How ironic, that as that day approaches and a new president arrives carrying briefing books bulging with the same climate change advice European governments unhesitatingly followed in the heady early days of Kyoto, the same European governments are now backpedaling furiously away from those same climate commitments—and for almost exactly the same reason Bush decided to abandon Kyoto.

It is small wonder that few of these commentators noted Bush’s big support for nuclear power, without which any climate change policy is simply not credible. Acknowledging this would force them to acknowledge that far from standing in the way of emission reductions, Bush was actually leading the way in ensuring they would happen on a grand scale.

This willful ignorance could end, if president-elect Obama decides he loves the atom as much as Bush did. The president-elect could decide not to follow the advice he is likely to find in his briefing books, which, judging by a report by one of his transition team members, advocates an energy policy heavy on renewables and conservation and light on nuclear power (the word “nuclear” appears only once, in an endnote; see the report).

The president-elect might ask if there is any recent evidence from the developed world showing that a national renewable electricity portfolio standard of 25 percent (advocated in Appendix 4 of the report) is a good idea, given that Germany, which for years was Europe’s standard bearer for Kyoto implementation, is today the fastest of the backpedalers mentioned above (see article).

Moreover, Germany is also thinking hard about reversing its nuclear phase-out, since its wind-based renewable portfolio standard doesn’t seem to be paying off. The president-elect might ask, shouldn’t the atom be more prominent in U.S. energy policy?

And if the answer is yes, there are big implications for Canada. The federal Conservatives just finished their policy convention, in which they reaffirmed the role of nuclear power in Canadian energy policy. If Obama continues on Bush’s pro-nuke path, what will become of the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP)? If GNEP swings away from the fast burner approach, what will replace it? Heavy water?

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11 years ago

I watched some of Obamas speeches about energy policy, and I came away with the distinct impression that he does not like nuclear power, and would rather be blamed for delaying it than blamed for endorsing it. It looks like dark days ahead.

11 years ago

Randal, I think this was more campaign rhetoric than any real intention. If you want the leftist vote, you have to say the right buzzwords and pay lip service to renewables and conservation and refrain from mentioning nuclear (the latter of which would have made Obama sound like McCain, whom Obama was trying to associate with “eight years of Bush”). Hopefully the industry’s lobbying includes a presentation that shows how power sector emissions in Alabama have dropped since the Browns Ferry unit came back into service in 2007, and, just as important, how the return of that unit has saved the utility from having to import expensive gas-fired power.

Joffan
11 years ago

I didn’t see any great initial enthusiam for nuclear power in Bush’s preferred policies, at least until it was clear that TVA were going to succesfully bring Brown Ferry 1 back on-line. That reversal of the closure tide seemed to change the mood more than anything else in my opinion, along with the steady drip of power plant licence renewals (now covering half of US plants).