EU vs. US transatlantic philosophical differences

September 23, 2007 at 3:23 pm | Posted in Business, Carbon emissions, Climate change, EU, Policies, Processes, Products, Reductions, US | 1 Comment

“It’s our philosophy that each nation has the sovereign capacity to decide for itself what its own portfolio of policies should be,” James Connaughton, chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, said at a briefing Friday when asked about the EU plans.

“So Europe should be setting its objectives, just as the United States sets its own objectives,” Connaughton added.

Quote (same old stance) by Connaughton appears in San Jose Mercury News article by Frank Davies on Global stage: Schwarzenegger to speak to U.N. on climate change.

This is a typical example of how global problems are approached from opposite corners to begin with. A lack of diplomacy means the chasm between polarised positions is unlikely to narrow quickly and easily. Nevertheless, times are changing. The contextual transatlantic differences were summarised well in The Economist last week—the gradual dawning of a modified approach by America is mentioned with the suggestion that the change may be welcomed by consumers and producers who crave a degree of certainty, which self-regulation does not provide:

Brussels rules OK
How the European Union is becoming the world’s chief regulator

September 20th 2007

The American model turns on cost-benefit analysis, with regulators weighing the effects of new rules on jobs and growth, as well as testing the significance of any risks. Companies enjoy a presumption of innocence for their products: should this prove mistaken, punishment is provided by the market (and a barrage of lawsuits). The European model rests more on the “precautionary principle”, which underpins most environmental and health directives. This calls for pre-emptive action if scientists spot a credible hazard, even before the level of risk can be measured. Such a principle sparks many transatlantic disputes: over genetically modified organisms or climate change, for example.

This affects not only carbon-reducing policy tools, but also the development and deployment of climate-friendly products and processes. (A huge topic.)


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  1. There are a number of principles I learn whilst studying for my degree on the environment. The key one one and the only one I remember is the “precautionary principle”. It is amazing to see just how quickly it has served to ‘underpin’ EU policy on the environment and I must say, a huge relief.

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