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Researchers Predict Future Of Federal Climate Change Policy

By Lori Wright, Media Relations
February 7, 2007

The future of federal climate change policy is likely to include a host of strategies such as a national cap on carbon dioxide emissions, mandatory standards on renewable energy, mandatory efficiency standards on vehicles and products, and a national carbon dioxide cap-and-trade scheme, according to new research conducted by UNH.

Stacy VanDeveer, associate professor of political science, evaluates current U.S. climate change policy and assesses future national strategies in “Political Science and Prediction: What’s Next for U.S. Climate Change Policy?” published today in the journal “Review of Policy Research.” The article is co-authored by Henrik Selin of Boston University.

According to the researchers, the U.S. government has engaged in few efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and national emissions continue to increase. Their assessment of future federal climate policy is based on statewide, regional and private climate change efforts that have proven political influence.

“These policies are already being implemented in the public and private sectors, and have identifiable constituencies of well-networked actors. As such, they are likely to be part of future federal policy. Conversely, policy ideas with fewer and/or less powerful political advocates are less likely to be included in federal policy,” the researchers said.

The researchers predict the following policies will be part of future federal policy:

  • A national cap on carbon dioxide emissions. Like those of many U.S. cities and states, this cap is likely to include an initial date for stabilizing emissions followed by a series of time-based targets for modest emissions reductions over time.
  • A national carbon dioxide cap-and-trade scheme partially modeled on existing regional and federal trading schemes for sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide and drawing on work conducted under the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). Like RGGI, a national carbon dioxide trading scheme is likely to focus initially only on the utilities sector and leave open the possibility of adding additional sectors.
  • National, mandatory renewable energy portfolio standards. Like those renewable energy portfolio standards in many states, the national standard is likely to begin with quite modest goals and increase over time so as to gradually drive energy sector investments and technological developments.
  • Mandatory national product standards for increased energy efficiency. Such standards are likely to expand on existing federal and state energy saving programs and target large energy users including major heating and cooling systems, office equipment, and common household appliances.
  • Increased vehicle fleet gasoline efficiency standards (CAFE standards). While most states have avoided policy action aimed at transportation issues because of local resistance, the federal government is likely to retain its decade’s old use of vehicle fleet standards and enact modest increases in these over time. Changes in CAFE standards are likely to incorporate aspects of vehicle emissions standards developed in California.
  • Increased use of federal monetary incentives. Such incentives are likely to include corporate tax credits for research and development and additional subsidies to consumers for the purchase of more energy efficient products including vehicles.

“Because the United States has often been reluctant to engage in international environmental policy-making and accept international environmental regulations before corresponding domestic action has been taken (particularly in the context of a highly contentious domestic issue such as climate change), developments in federal climate policy can be expected to induce changes in U.S. foreign policy,” according to the researchers.

“This means that significant changes in U.S. foreign policies related climate change are likely only after the enactment of more expansive federal climate change policy. As such, observers and policy makers from both inside and outside the United States would be wise to closely study ongoing and dynamic public, private, and civil society sector climate change developments outside Washington D.C., and their influence on national debates and future federal policy making,” the researchers said.

VanDeveer is a 2006–2007 Visiting Fellow at the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University. Before taking a faculty position at UNH, he spent two years as a post-doctoral research fellow in the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. In addition to authoring and co-authoring numerous articles, book chapters, working papers and reports, he co-edited “EU Enlargement and the Environment: Institutional Change and Environmental Policy in Central and Eastern Europe” (2005), and “Saving the Seas: Values, Scientists and International Governance” (1997).

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