Events - 26.10.2012 - 00:00 

US and Renewable Energy

What affect can the US election have on international policy and agreements on renewable energy? Can the US affect the global market in renewables? HSG hosts a panel discussion about the possible ramifications.


10/26/2012. While the US election has moves into its final weeks, and a winner is nearly impossible to predict, one subject which seems under covered is climate change. Neither candidate has painted a clear picture of what the future might hold for renewable energies under their future administrations. So to examine the possible impacts on US and global energy policy more completely, the University of St Gallen assembled a panel consisting of HSG Professors Dr. James Davis and Dr. Rolf Wüstenhagen and visiting Professor from Singapore Management University, Dr. Ann Florini.

What’s at stake
The panel began with the observation that while climate change has not been a present in the discussions around the election, the candidates have drawn a clear distinction between their two different energy policies for America. According to Prof Florini, while neither candidate has laid out a path to quickly move to a low carbon economy, “clearly President Obama’s policy are much friendlier to transition to a low carbon future, and Governor Romney has turned climate change and carbon into a laugh line in his speeches.”

Is there a real difference?
Prof Wüstenhagen however, said that the good news is that no matter who wins the election in November, it will make very little difference in the global energy markets. Other regions such as Europe and Asia are taking the lead on renewable energy production.

“While I agree with [Prof Florini] that if you look at Romney’s policies you would not see a proactive plan or a push towards renewables,” said Prof Wüstenhagen. “Obama on the other hand has good intentions, but he has had these good intentions four years ago, when he first came to office and has made very little progress.” Prof Davis however pointed out that the state of the US economy constrained Obama’s ability to move forward on renewable energy.

What would a Romney win mean?
Prof Wüstenhagen made a point that a Romney win could actual be good for global leadership, as people would stop waiting for the US to lead.

Prof Florini also pointed out that it could – in a limited way - be good within the US as well. When the second President Bush was in office, many states initiated carbon regulation policies independent of the federal government. Prof Davis agreed, adding former republican Governor Schwarzenegger has been strong on the need to move away from a carbon economy and the Northeast Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative has a number of states participating.

“If you take a more nuanced view of the US you see there is much more activity than if you just focus on the federal government,” said Prof Davis. However, he pointed out that the states that are participating in these efforts are the more democrat leaning coastal states and a lot of pollution happens in other areas of the US.

Will the US change course?
The panel ended on optimistic notes. While all panelists seemed hopeful that the US could begin moving towards a low carbon future.

“I do tend to think that people start to wake up at some point,” said Prof Davis. “High priced gas will keep people interested in fuel efficient cars. I think the more we have severe weather – we’ve had a lot of severe weather in the US lately – the easier it becomes for people to say maybe there is a connection between carbon emissions and global weather patterns.”

Prof Florini agreed, “I have a fair amount of faith in America to figure things out eventually. I really do believe in what Winston Churchill said ‘You can always rely on the Americans to do the right thing, once they’ve tried everything else’.”

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