Nathalie Tocci is Pierre Keller visiting professor at Harvard Kennedy School, director of the Istituto Affari Internazionali, member of the board of ENI and author of POLITIC‘s World View column.
After nearly two decades of prolonged crisis, the European Union has found a new one Reason for being: a green Europe.
A normative vision for the future represents both a clear growth strategy and a path to political union for the bloc. Yet, as has been made clear to the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow this week, the EU – responsible for only around 8 percent of global emissions – is only a small part of the global picture. And a green Europe can only be achieved if it is also global.
Today the EU is clearly ahead of the green curve. The European Green Deal, in particular its Fit for 55 package, is currently the only concrete plan to achieve climate neutrality. And while both China and the US – to name two of the world’s leading emitters – may be bold in their promises, they are far behind on the laws, regulations and funds needed to get there.
However, the EU climate leadership has no reason to rejoice. A green Europe can only present a viable path if it achieves internal carbon neutrality with zero emissions and contributes to the same goal externally, through foreign policy, as well as its leading role in the global governance of the climate and energy transition – a dimension for the which is much less prepared.
If the EU decarbonises itself without bringing the rest of the world with it, its global competitiveness will suffer, its industrial base will be emptied and the potentially regressive socio-economic effects of the transition will be exacerbated. The blockade would also risk inadvertently contributing to the decoupling of global supply chains between green and brown economies, with higher costs for all.
The EU will only be able to successfully untangle emissions and prosperity in Europe if it moves the rest of the world to its side. And for this, it has to overcome high geopolitical obstacles.
Today China has a clear advantage in green technologies, especially solar and storage. Europe is also pushing forward in the development of green capacities, and in doing so also fits the objective of European strategic autonomy, given the more widespread and decentralized nature of renewables. So while old fossil fuel interdependencies may gradually dilute, there is a risk that other addictions will increase.
A decarbonised Europe without China would be prohibitively expensive and probably unfeasible. Even if Europe were to launch and broadly promote its green industrial capabilities, it would take time for them to become competitive and close the supply gap if China were to block. And as relations between the West and China tighten, difficult questions arise that the EU – and the US – must address.
In the past, for example, the debate on cooperation with authoritarian countries has often pitted interests against values, asking questions such as: should values such as human rights prevail over the pursuit of strategic or economic interests? Now, as the energy transition unfolds, two sets of values will inevitably begin to compete, raising questions as to whether climate leadership should come at the expense of human rights. Or, more specifically, whether the EU should meet its renewable energy targets if the only way to do so is to have to buy it from Xinjiang.
Squaring this circle will undoubtedly require stronger transatlantic relations. But even here the glass is only half full. Under President Joe Biden, the EU and the US have moved on, raising the green agenda to a key issue for strengthening transatlantic ties. And on some issues, this has translated into joint leadership, such as for example the global commitment to methane discussed at COP26 this week.
In other areasHowever, the transatlantic gap remains significant. The price of carbon, in particular, stands out in this respect, as do diverging views on green taxonomies. As the EU has already started setting its standards, hoping to pave the way for climate investment, the US is unlikely to adopt them anytime soon. And when it comes to carbon prices, transatlantic convergence is all the more difficult, but necessary, given the future EU carbon border adjustment mechanism – a crucial external step if the European Emissions Trading System is to develop. as it should internally.
Finally, a green and global Europe is also one where it keeps its climate finance commitments and ensures that others do too. EU institutions and member countries currently lead the world in climate finance, and if the Global threshold of $ 100 billion gradually within reach, it will largely be thanks to the EU’s efforts in this regard. But, again, the devil is in the details.
operating 30 percent of the budget Europe reserved for climate in surrounding regions will not be easy, especially as the lion’s share has been channeled to specific geographic areas rather than following thematic priorities. However, this will be essential to accelerate the green transition beyond the borders of the EU.
The new narrative of Europe is and should be that of a green union. There is no doubt about this. However, in following his new ambitions, his focus cannot remain primarily internal. For any chance of growth or success, Europe’s climate agenda must also be global.