Europe, not the US, can lead the world on climate action | Seen
World leaders will finally meet in Glasgow for COP26 next week after months of planning and amid important signals from countries previously climate skeptical that they are now taking global warming more seriously.
At the United Nations General Assembly. Chinese President Xi Jinping has vowed that China will stop funding new coal-fired power plants abroad, but power cuts in October called into question Beijing’s timetable to end the use of coal in his country . In Turkey, President Erdogan finally ratified the Paris Agreement.
Meanwhile, the panic over soaring gas, oil and electricity prices – though not linked to quitting carbon – has put the need for genuine and lasting energy security under the projectors.
But COP26 will inevitably be disappointing in proposing clear pathways for the emission reductions which, according to the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report, must be implemented over the next decade.
One of the main reasons for this is that although the United States has re-engaged internationally under the Biden administration – and is pushing other states to go further and faster in their carbon-free transition – it there is no clear agenda for how the United States is going to transform its own economy.
In order to get his budget through Congress, Biden appears to be reducing even the cautious level of ambition of his clean energy program. Why should others accept risks to the competitiveness of their domestic industries by going first, when the world’s biggest emitters are not yet planting their stands?
To the EU
This risks a post-COP26 collapse in climate action. Once the excitement of Glasgow is over, we will continue to face the realities of insufficient change, knowing now that global leadership is not up to the task of meeting the political and geopolitical challenges to meet them.
This is where the EU will take on its full meaning, as a facilitator of a large, more progressive green market.
As the first global player to present concrete plans on how to reduce net greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030, compared to 1990 levels, in European Green Deal announcements in 2020 and the Fit for 55 package this year, the EU has credibility where the US does not.
More in transition than many others, she is able to lead by example, share and market her experiences. It is a major advanced economy, donor and export market, and regulatory superpower. It can offer significant intellectual property and infrastructure expertise essential to carbon transition to countries with less developed plans.
The EU is not yet a geopolitical heavyweight, at the level of the United States, capable of providing a credible threat to collectively use all aspects of its economic power, to strengthen its negotiating position at COP26.
The divisions and inconsistencies within the EU are too well known – both to the leaders of its own institutions tasked with attending climate talks on its behalf, and to the governments of other countries.
Rather, European climate power is about the ability to bring about change on a more mechanical level, through the EU’s interactions with other countries – both those who are convinced of the need to urgently transform their economies, and those who are less.
Ensure, through its business tools such as CBAM, that trading partners have no choice but to move away from carbon-intensive production if they wish to export to the EU.
By developing European capacity and innovation in green technologies and strengthening supply chains of necessary raw materials, it is not only China that is shaping the development of technologies necessary for a global revolution.
By providing green finance and leveraging private sector investment so the developing world can take advantage of the opportunities they see in the green revolution.
By reframing the concept of energy security to focus on clean energy and resource efficiency.
And pushing to explore which energy market reforms would most effectively stimulate the development of the renewable energy sector to meet the resulting demand.
The EU can support the UK COP Presidency, the COP Secretariat and other world leaders such as the US to talk about the need for climate action in Glasgow next week.
But European climate leadership will take on its full meaning once leaders return home, putting into action the full range of its external tools to engage in rebalancing geopolitics as the world moves away from carbon.
Susi Dennison is the head of ECFR’s European Power program.