The geopolitical consequences of the EU’s green ambitions

As the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) came to a close and resulted in weaker than expected political commitments (or probably as expected if wisdom already comes with young age), eyes are now turning to China and the United States – of all countries – lead the way in the fight against climate change.

The two biggest emitters of CO2 in the world have pledged to act in a surprise joint statement on the sidelines of the climate conference in Glasgow. The two parties reiterated their firm commitment to work together to achieve the 1.5 ° C temperature target defined in the 2015 Paris Agreement and to globally strengthen climate action in the 2020s. Among other actions, the two parties intend to cooperate on regulatory frameworks and environmental standards related to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, to maximize the societal benefits of the clean energy transition and to liaise in key areas related to circular economy, such as green design and use of renewable resources.

While the Glasgow Climate Pact has once been called business as usual and “blah, blah, blah,” to a European audience, the bilateral efforts of the United States and China may sound familiar. They look like the European Union’s efforts to become the first climate neutral continent by 2050 – efforts known as the European Green Deal. With the European Green Agreement and the ‘Fit for 55’ legislative package, the EU aims to become the only major economy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030 in an attempt more wide to limit global warming. It uses a variety of different goals in the EU economy and society to achieve this larger goal, including biodiversity, sustainable food systems, sustainable agriculture, clean energy, sustainable industry, sustainable mobility, pollution elimination and climate action. In doing so, it aims to institutionalize a form of green thinking, which aims to decouple economic growth from the use of resources and promote a just and inclusive transition, at least in theory.

However, while the European Green Deal is at the heart of an effort to transform the European economy, it will also set the EU’s global political priorities for decades to come. As such, the European Green Deal is also a foreign policy tool for the EU with profound geopolitical consequences, both in its immediate neighborhoods and beyond.

The first swirls of such a transformation have emerged following the EU’s latest Arctic policy update and the proposed goal of not importing arctic fossil fuels from re-mining. Ultimately, the EU also wants to work on a multilateral legal obligation to no longer authorize the development of hydrocarbon reserves in the Arctic or adjacent regions. While the idea of ​​such a proposed moratorium has sparked debate in the arctic world, the global question of ending fossil fuels essentially concerns the global positioning of the EU as a leading actor in the fight against climate change, especially in light of China’s new Climate Friendship.

As European citizens, grassroots movements and a small army of environmental lawyers sue their governments – from France to Norway – for failing to implement climate action, the green shift seems inevitable. Policymakers are slowly realizing that current climate policies may not be enough. Stricter international climate policies are needed.

For example, issues of building climate coalitions (called “climate clubs”) that combine targeted carbon pricing and trade sanctions to prevent free riding are gaining more and more European attention. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz argued that the EU should create a climate club with other countries like the United States, Japan and maybe even China to avoid trade frictions over green tariffs like a carbon tax planned at the border. The basic idea of ​​such a climate club is that countries wishing to reform together set a faster pace than what was, for example, adopted and discussed at COP26. In order to protect each other against competitive disadvantages, members must define a common CO2 price that applies in all participating countries. Imports from third countries should be subject to a climate tariff to prevent stowaways and possibly also offer other countries an incentive to join the club. The European Commission has already proposed the introduction of a carbon border adjustment mechanism reflecting the EU’s internal emissions trading system and the EU’s internal climate action, which would take into account emissions occurring outside the EU related to a selection of imported products and resources.

As climate change disrupts the borders, lifestyles, food chains, biodiversity and long-term habitability of many regions of the South and indigenous lands, the EU’s internal environmental commitments for a just transition is more of a foreign policy issue than ever. Reducing greenhouse gases, mitigating climate change and adapting must now become key pillars of the foreign policy toolbox of all industrialized countries.

How to reach the critical mass of countries necessary for the success of climate initiatives such as the climate club? Such questions may seem best left to politicians in Beijing, Brussels and Washington, but achieving climate justice and fostering transformative change in the world also requires more comprehensive and interconnected cooperation, from high-level diplomacy to the involvement of the base.

The European Union, supported by the European Green Deal, aims to lead the way towards a more sustainable Earth and, therefore, positions itself as the world leader in climate.

Can the United States and China with their newly formed alliance catch up?

Andreas Raspotnik is an Austrian Marshall Plan Fellow at the Wilson Center, Washington DC, and Senior Research Fellow at the Fridtjof Nansen Institute, Lysaker (Norway). Romain Chuffart is Doctor DurhamARCTIC. candidate at Durham Law School, Durham University (United Kingdom), and associate researcher and member of the steering group at the Arctic Institute – Center for Circumpolar Security Studies, Washington DC.

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