As the global leader of climate action, European governments want to know how President Obama’s major climate speech affects Europe – and particularly whether the actions he outlined can allow the United States to reach its commitment to reduce emissions by 17 percent from 2005 levels (or even exceed that level).

The big picture: Obama’s speech amounted to the first time that President Obama had given voice to the environmental movement’s core narrative at length. Suddenly, he wasn’t just talking about energy security and the economy and “all of the above” – he was talking about protecting the future of life on the planet against very real threat of climate change.  Watching the speech, I felt like I’d just woken up from 12 years of Bush-Cheney, and yesterday was the first day of the Obama administration.

Nonetheless, the success of implementation will vary widely depending on how rigorously Obama and his appointees follow up – and how willing they are to continue to take on the polluters responsible for the climate crisis. If rigorously implemented, Obama’s plan could reduce pollution by more than one billion tons of pollution per year, or 15-20% of current US emissions or more, as my colleague Cecilia Springer details here.

Within this context, the precedents Europe sets and several major decisions that the EU makes will have a surprising influence on how much the United States actually reduces emissions. Here are a few examples worthy of consideration by European governments that want to encourage the United States’ new direction.

 Power plant rules and the biomass loophole. The success of President Obama’s clear commitment to capping pollution from power plants rests on many factors, including whether EPA can finalize the review before Obama finishes his term. But one that wasn’t talked about in the speech, but which is hugely significant, is whether EPA will close a massive loophole in how it accounts for carbon. EPA is undergoing a three year review process to evaluate how it accounts for power plants clear-cutting forests and burning them for power. As medieval as this sounds and is, this process actually happens on a pretty large scale. Why? It’s because of a massive accounting loophole in how greenhouse gases are measured. Burn coal, natural gas, or oil, and all that carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere is tracked, and under the new EPA rules, will be capped as well.EU Flags at delegation

But if a power company like Dominion or Britain’s Drax instead just sends bulldozers out to clearcut a forest and load the trees into its furnace and torch them, the carbon accounting rules magically declare them carbon neutral. While that ultimately might be true over many centuries, regrowing forests takes a very long time.

Indeed, a recent European study found that burning trees produces 80 percent more emissions than coal over a 20-year time period and 49 percent more over a 40-year time period. Nonetheless, the EPA continues to account torching forests to be as clean as solar. It would take 100 years for biomass use to even perform better than coal. EPA’s scientific advisory board came to a similar conclusion. Nonetheless, the EPA continues to account torching forests to be as clean as solar. Given that we need to reduce climate pollution now to avoid crisis, we can’t use policies that take a century to start working.