Connie Hedegaard: No one will act on climate change until America makes a move

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The Independent Online

In accordance with the prescriptions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, we expect all developed countries to take on reductions by 2020 in a range of 25 to 40 per cent below 1990 levels.

But right now the world is waiting for the United States to move. And rightly so. It has the technology, the economic capacity and the manpower to cut back emissions significantly.

I am well aware that the industrial backbone of the USwas formed in an era of low oil prices. This obviously makes change harder in the short term. With oil prices as high as they are, American industry is facing tough times – which might have been avoided with a different approach to energy and industrial policy.

In the first six months of 2008, the "Detroit 3" – General Motors, Ford and Chrysler – have all witnessed staggering declines in their sales figures. They have lost market shares as gas prices have soared.

The current economic turmoil in the US is not only caused by rising energy prices. But there is no doubt that for the US going green is a key to a prosperous future. Washington may not have grasped the potential of the green wave yet. But I am pleased to observe the many initiatives at regional, state and local level in the US.

Cities like New York are launching ambitious plans to bring down emissions. States like Texas and Colorado are putting up wind turbines at a stunning pace. Nascent regional carbon trading schemes are appearing. Really: I think America is just waiting for their President and for Congress to wake up and smell the coffee.

It has been puzzling to watch the US take the back seat in the climate negotiations. I was brought up with a firm belief that when the world needed leadership – from the World Wars and the Cold War to the fight againstterrorism – we have counted on the US for leadership.

But I am reassured, by the climate policy signals from both US presidential candidates, that we will see movement in January. And they should be reassured by studies that show that the US can cut back emissions significantly at low or even no costs – even with existing technologies.

Connie Hedegaard is Danish Minister for Climate and Energy. Taken from a speech at the LSE on Wednesday