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Advancing Ambition

Interests and Arguments in EU Climate Policy-Making


Werner Schäfer

This book explains under which conditions the European Union adopts ambitious domestic climate policies. It presents a theoretical framework that combines insights from rational choice institutionalism and the constructivist literature on political rhetoric. Its main argument is that ambitious sectoral climate policies emerge in situations in which the opponents of such policies run out of socially sustainable arguments to defend their positions. The framework is applied to five case studies of EU climate policy-making concerning cars, buildings, the EU’s emissions trading system (EU ETS), the promotion of renewable energy sources as well as agricultural greenhouse gas emissions.


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Part I Preliminaries


17 Chapter 1: Analyzing sectoral climate policy ambition in the european union 1.1 A political response to climate change Most climate scientists today agree that the world is getting warmer and that human activities are to blame for this fact (e.g. Bolin 2008, Dessler/Parson 2006, IPCC 2007, Richardson et al. 2009). While the precise impacts of rising global temperatures are highly uncertain, they may be catastrophic. Sea-levels could rise. Islands could disappear. More frequent and more severe extreme weather events might cause enormous damages. Heat waves or storms might interrupt global food production. Yet global warming is not inevitable: economic research suggests that avoiding dangerous climate change through the mitigation of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions would be costly, but not crippling to global growth or prosperity. Estimates range from one to at most a few percent of glob- al GDP (e.g. Enkvist et al. 2007, Helm 2009a, Hepburn/Stern 2009, IEA 2007, McKinsey 2009, Stern 2007, Weyant 2008).1 So far, however, the political re- sponse to climate change has been limited. Neither individually nor collectively have the world’s governments agreed to or implemented policies to lower GHG emissions in a way that is compatible with a long-term stabilization of the global climate. This raises the overarching question underlying this book: why has there been such a limited political response to climate change in the past and how might ambitious emission reduction policies become politically feasible? The book contributes to answering this question by focusing on a more specific issue, namely...

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