Barack Obama – a step in the right direction for the climate  

By Torben Hvidsten, 10. November 2008

Danish energy companies are happy at the election of Barack Obama as President of the United States. In the election campaign Obama put forward a very comprehensive reform programme for American energy policy. The main goal was to minimise the USA's requirements for oil and gas imports and to protect the competitiveness of American industry.

Barack Obama wants more of everything. More energy savings, more renewable energy, the release of oil deposits for exploitation, a gas pipeline to Alaska, more oil prospecting, development of clean-coal technology and more money for energy-related research and development.

- However, energy reform cannot be undertaken without support from congress, and after all the fine-sounding targets, the question is how the “party” can be financed. There is some way to go before these positive signals translate into changes in the real world, says Lars Aagaard, Deputy Director of the Danish Energy Association.

Barack Obama acknowledges the climate challenge, though rating it lower than America’s security of supply and competitiveness.

- Barack Obama is no ‘Commie’. Despite the positive signals about an active energy policy and an acknowledgement of the need for a new climate agreement under a Danish EU presidency, Obama has not committed himself to a reduction which, in the short term at least, is anywhere near the recommendations of the IPCC or the ambitions of the EU, Aagaard says.

- Today we take pleasure in the change in Washington, but tomorrow there still lies an uphill task ahead of the summit meeting in Denmark next year. Changes in the USA do not occur from one day to the next, and the President does not have unlimited powers. It will therefore still take considerable ingenuity to reach an international agreement in 2009 which is able to deliver reductions in greenhouse gas emissions to the necessary degree, Aagaard says.

- This means that we ought to start seeing the climate summit in 2009 as part of a longer process – and not as the summit which once and for all determines climate policy through to 2020. If we are to succeed in holding together at the negotiations, we will have live with the fact that many details will still be unresolved when the meeting ends in 2009, and that maybe the opportunities for further progress will be greater in future years, Aagaard says.

Aagaard feels that Europe and Denmark must keep up the pressure on the USA, but that an exaggerated focus on tightening the short-term reduction targets could end up leading the climate negotiations down a blind alley. For that reason the world community should seek other ways of committing the USA and Obama to bear their share of responsibility for ensuring reductions in the longer term.

- The key to success for the climate summit might, for example, be binding requirements for energy research investments in areas which combine Europe’s demand for significant reductions and the USA’s desire for greater independence from energy imports and for greater competitiveness. A global push for technology permitting continued exploitation of American coal reserves twinned with technology making cars far less oil-dependent would seem the obvious way forward. CO2 clean-up and storage and electric cars ought to be joint focus areas.


  • Deputy Director
  • Lars Aagaard
  • T: +45 35 300 450
  • M: +45 22 750 450