Author Stacy VanDeveer discusses North American climate policy

As the United States debates domestic cap-and-trade legislation, would a North American plan for emissions reduction be a more successful option? During today's OnPoint, Stacy VanDeveer, an associate professor in the department of political science at the University of New Hampshire and editor of the new book, "Changing Climates in North American Politics: Institutions, Policymaking, and Multilevel Governance," assesses North American policy responses to climate change. He discusses the potential for using NAFTA for carbon dioxide emissions trading and talks about interaction between the public and private sectors on climate.


Monica Trauzzi: Welcome to the show. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Joining me today is Stacy VanDeveer, an associate professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of New Hampshire and editor of the new book, "Changing Climates in North American Politics: Institutions, Policymaking, and Multilevel Governance." Stacy, thanks for being here.

Stacy VanDeveer: Thanks for asking me, it's great.

Monica Trauzzi: Stacy, this new book is an assessment of North American policy responses to climate change. What was the impetus for creating this assessment, why now?

Stacy VanDeveer: It started by wanting to catalog and analyze a little bit all of the state level and municipal level activities going on around the continent and the sort of leading firms. So, on the one hand, where the federal governments in the U.S. and in Canada and in Mexico hadn't been very active on climate change policy making for years, there was all of this policymaking and all of this activity at these other levels of government. So that it was not just a simple matter of there being no climate policy in the U.S. or very little, even though there was very little in Washington, but because there was such dynamism in other parts of the politics.

Monica Trauzzi: So, taking a look at the three countries, Canada, Mexico, the U.S., broadly speaking, who has led the way? Who is falling short? Where does the most work need to be done?

Stacy VanDeveer: Well, at the national level all three states really have not had significant efforts either on renewable energy or on climate change mitigation or adaptation. So, when you go down to the state and provincial level California is, in a way, the easy leader because they have so much ability to do so, but there are a number of others worth highlighting; Texas on renewable energy, Massachusetts and many of the New England states on building a carbon trading regime, British Columbia on its new carbon tax scheme on the last couple of years, and a number of cities, Toronto, Portland, Oregon, that have achieved pretty serious emissions reductions and renewable energy achievements, even as both of those cities have grown a lot. So, those were all kind of things we wanted to highlight and try to draw lessons from them for higher levels of government.

Monica Trauzzi: So, we're talking about more of a bottom up approach as opposed to what we see in Europe, which is more top down.

Stacy VanDeveer: Yes.

Monica Trauzzi: Is there any indication of which is a more successful approach?

Stacy VanDeveer: I think what we're seeing is that in order for emissions to be capped and come down gradually that we need policymaking efforts at all levels of government. So, one of the things that's different across the Atlantic is they have some substantial policy at the European level and they've worked hard to try to figure out how to implement it at lower levels of government and they've had some challenges at implementing some of the European policies. Whereas, on this side, a lot of these policies have come from below and I think that while they have had some success at reducing emissions locally and in some states, if the continent's emissions are going to come down or if our country's emissions are going to come down, then we need for the federal governments to draw on these local level experiments and pick out what's successful. So, in a way, it's not necessarily that one way is better than the other, but that both are producing policy lessons for effective policy.

Monica Trauzzi: And there are some concerns here in the U.S. on the state and local levels that once a federal policy is in place it will sort of detract from the work that's already been done, do you think those concerns are valid?

Stacy VanDeveer: I think that they are valid in the sense that some of the things the federal government might do might tie the hands of some of the states. So, I think that having serious debate about what the appropriate level of government at which to do something is really important. So, if we have for example a cap-and-trade scheme, it might make sense for there to be a single set of rules in the U.S. and then hopefully a single set of rules or institutions for all three North American states, because that would be a more efficient way to have a carbon market. But hopefully, such a policy will leave pretty of room in a whole bunch of energy areas for states to continue to innovate and for cities to continue to try to produce new lessons.

Monica Trauzzi: One of the issues you cover in the book is the potential for using NAFTA for CO2 permit trading. Is enough being done in terms of addressing the trade and manufacturing overlaps between the three countries?

Stacy VanDeveer: No, one of the things we really concluded in the book and my co-author Henrik Selin, who is at Boston University, we've been working on since the book came out and will continue to work on, is ideas about what seems to make the most sense at the NAFTA level, right? So for example, one basic thing that doesn't require big changes in NAFTA, that just requires some attention, is that some energy policies, some of them inspired by environmental goals and some of them not, are probably barriers to trade currently. So that if we were to use NAFTA to say, okay, how do we use our common market within NAFTA to facilitate more movement of renewable energy across the borders and more renewable energy investment? That would be something we don't need big new laws or treaties for; we just need to use the institutions we have to try to say how do we use them to engender more renewable energy?

Monica Trauzzi: With President Obama heading to Copenhagen later this week is there anything in particular you're looking for him to say on this sort of North American approach to emissions reduction?

Stacy VanDeveer: I'm not sure he will say much about North American approach. I would like him to say that in North America we have some lessons we could learn from the Europeans. And that doesn't mean we need to copy their institutions. It means that they're working hard to reduce emissions at a continentwide level. They're integrating wealthier and poorer parts of the continental economy. They are regulating a very diverse economy and those are all things that - you know, the efficiency gains that they're trying to engender. They're trying to drive investment to poorer parts of their continent. Those are all things that we could be doing here because they're the more efficient and probably more effective way to go about it than sitting in North America with three different states. We share one economy, but we're not regulating or we're not thinking about climate change policy as one. We're doing it probably in three separate environments and I think the Europeans demonstrate that there are more effective ways to go about that.

Monica Trauzzi: So, back here in the U.S., on our policy specifically, Waxman-Markey has passed the House. The Senate is now working on its own climate and energy package. So, based on the review that you've done in the book, does the House version put us on the right track in order to reduce emissions, but also keep the economy going and keep things steady?

Stacy VanDeveer: I think there are some great things in the House and Senate bills, in particular just the notion of having a national cap and then the cap coming down over time is what we need to, in a way, inspire innovation to be more efficient. I have some concerns about kind of offset provisions and a number of things that are kind of buried in the bill. If any of those provisions mean that the cap that's designated is not the actual cap, then I think we have a problem, right? We need for there to be a cap and for the emissions of the country to decline over time. I'm less concerned about the details of the actual rate. I would prefer it try to be fast and I think we do need institutions and policies to drive investment to renewable energy. We need more investment in renewable energy. But in general, I think the cap is the most important thing.

Monica Trauzzi: OK, we'll end it right there. I thank you for coming on the show.

Stacy VanDeveer: Thank you very much. Thanks for having me, it's great.

Monica Trauzzi: And thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.

[End of Audio]



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