1 January 2012

Climate change 2011: A status report on US policy

Steven Cohen

Steven Cohen is executive director of Columbia University’s Earth Institute, USA and professor in the practice of public affairs at the School of International and Public Affairs (...


Alison Miller

Alison Miller is a senior program manager at Columbia University’s Earth Institute, USA. Miller received a master’s of public administration in environmental science and policy at...

A growing partisan divide in Congress stalled almost all new federal climate policy in 2011. The divide frustrated efforts to pass a cap-and-trade carbon permitting system, spawned a battle between the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Congress, pushed most substantive climate change policy down to the municipal level and hindered US ability to effectively negotiate an international climate agreement. Amid the federal partisan wrangling, US cities have enacted far-sighted climate policy initiatives, and the growing cost of fossil fuels has stimulated investment in renewable energy, edging the country closer to commercially viable alternatives to fossil fuels. These trends could help provide an alternate route to climate mitigation, even without international treaties or national legislation. But the inevitable shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources would be greatly hastened by federal action to tax carbon dioxide emissions and use the revenue generated to support alternative energy technologies. That action is extremely unlikely to occur unless climate change comes to be seen in the United States as a practical, rather than ideological, issue.