What a Romney-Ryan era could mean for climate change

By John Parnell

Earlier in the year we gave you a run through of the Republican Presidential candidates and their energy and climate change policies.

The favourite in that particular race, Mitt Romney, won out and at the weekend Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan was named as as his running mate.

Pollsters Gallup currently have Obama and Romney level-pegging, so lets play devil’s advocate, and fast forward past a Romney-Ryan election victory, to 2015.

That’s crunch time for the climate in so many ways.

Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan at the event to announce the latter's appointment as running mate. (Source: Flickr/monkeyz_uncle)

The UN climate process will be approaching its deadline to define a global deal on carbon emissions. The door to limiting warming to two degrees could be closed and crucial decisions on energy policies will have been and gone.

Using Paul Ryan’s budget proposal as inspiration, what does a Romney-Ryan victory mean for the global energy and climate outlook and exactly how different is it from President Obama’s plans?

So much for “all of the above”

The “all of the above energy policy” that both candidates are pushing pre-election, would not quite come to fruition under a Romney-Ryan win.

The Ryan budget “allows private development of all-American made energy, including nuclear, wind and solar”.

The crucial word is private. No subsidies would be provided to help these fledgling industries and ultimately, little hope of the US keeping pace with China, India and Europe in the development of solar panels and wind infrastructure in particular. Losing such a strong competitor will weaken these industries collectively.

What would Obama do?

Obama has made it clear he would renew the tax credit system for renewable energy but new nuclear energy would appear to be off the cards regardless of who wins.

Cracking on with KeystoneXL

Ryan is a keen proponent of the ‘build KeystoneXL/create jobs’ argument. By 2015 the pipeline’s developer TransCanada will have the pipeline operational sending Canadian oil to refineries on the Gulf coast of the US.

Environmentalists will be dismayed by the possibility of leaks and contamination of water supplies but the real disaster will be less visible.

Opening the supply of tar sands will lock the US into a high carbon future and push the world closer to a plus two degrees world.

What would Obama do?

President Obama says he is keen to ensure the most stringent environmental checks are completed before its construction, but there remains an air of inevitability over Keystone’s construction.

No global deal

The complexities of the UN’s work to build a global emissions reduction deal are well documented. The US is one of the key players required to drive ambition among other big emitters and it is difficult to see a Romney-Ryan climate change envoy doing that.

The US currently points to its domestic record as evidence of its good will to enter into a global deal. Ryan’s voting record on these issues is against greenhouse gas regulations and against CO2 limits.

It would be difficult to imagine how this lack of domestic action could translate into a pro-Durban Platform stance at the UN.

What would Obama do?

Obama’s climate change envoy is already lowering the bar ahead of this year’s talks but this is likely to more to do with shrewd negotiating than genuine opposition to a global deal (on the right terms for the USA economy).

Drilling

The Ryan budget called for a acceleration in drilling for US oil and gas resources offshore and on land. This is thanks in part to $40bn of fossil subsidies over five years.

The willingness to hand out these subsidies is in marked contrast with Ryan’s call to “…roll back federal intervention and expensive corporate welfare funding directed to favored industries.” This would appear not to include fossil fuels.

What would Obama do?

Obama is opening up new territories in the Gulf of Mexico and the Arctic for drilling and has decreased imports of foreign oil significantly, but Republicans have already expressed a desire to expedite this timetable.

Gasland

At the moment individual states are able to issue permissions to licence shale gas drilling. The Ryan budget seeks to cut red tape and encourage drilling for shale gas across the nation.

The number of active gas rigs in the US fell during July as gas prices dropped so low as to make many operations uneconomical.

What would Obama do?

It’s unclear if the nation’s unconventional gas resources could be exploited any faster than they have under Obama. Many of the states banning “fracking” have few resources of note and have been accused of seeking the green vote by blocking an industry that would have little significance in that location any way.

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