12/07/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Prospects for US Environmental Leadership By Obama

Barack Obama's election promises much needed leadership for international environmental protection. At his acceptance speech he referred in passing to a "planet in peril." He made campaign promises to cut carbon emissions by 80% by the year 2050, and to invest $150 billion over the next 10 years in promoting alternative energy. He co-authored implementing legislation for an international treaty regulating persistent organic pollutants. He has indicated he will ratify the law of the sea treaty.

More generally he appears willing to rely on multilateral approaches to dealing with shared problems. His respect from the rest of the world will restore goodwill and offset the US' growing reputation abroad as an environmental rogue.

Environmental policy making is more likely to be based on impartial science than in the past administration.

Several early indicators may provide further insight into the extent to which he will meaningfully commit to global environmental leadership. Key administrative appointments include the Science and Technology Advisor, the Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs, the head of the EPA Office of International Affairs, and the Assistant Secretary of State to run the Bureau of Oceans, Environment and Scientific Affairs

He may also create a new interagency environmental taskforce on international environmental affairs and consolidate energy policy under an Energy Czar.

Signs of reoriented US policies may be unveiled before he assumes office: at the next round of climate change negotiations in Poznan, Poland from 1-12 December, and at United Nations General Assembly discussion about institutional reform to improve sustainable development and environmental protection.

It remains to be seen whether climate change will crowd out other international environmental issues from the agenda, such as global ecosystems protection, and ocean governance.

His international environmental efforts will have to proceed under the shadow of real political constraints. The majority of national political concern and attention remains focused on economic issues: the recession and cleaning up from the financial melt-down.