The Future of European Climate Change Policy

In my previous blog post, on January 14th, I offered my personal views regarding “International Climate Change Policy & Action in the Biden Administration.”  Today, I’m pleased to turn to a parallel assessment of future European climate change policy by Ottmar Edenhofer, a greatly-accomplished German economist, admired by academics, as well as leaders in government, industry, and non-governmental organizations.

Professor Edenhofer’s presentation, “The European Green Deal – Reform or Regulatory Tsunami?” and our subsequent discussion is the most recent webinar in our series, Conversations on Climate Change and Energy Policy, sponsored by the Harvard Project on Climate Agreements (HPCA).  As you know, in this webinar series we feature leading authorities on climate change policy, whether from academia, the private sector, NGOs, or government.  A video recording (and transcript) of the entire webinar is available here.

Ottmar Edenhofer is Professor of Economics at the Technical University of Berlin, the Founding Director of the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change, and Co-Director and Chief Economist of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.  He has been a major contributor to scholarship on the economics of energy and climate change, and served as Co-Chair of Working Group III of Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, where I had the pleasure of working under his leadership.  He is a key advisor of the German Government, as well as the European Union.  He holds a Ph.D. in economics and a B.A. degree in philosophy (a pairing of degrees which –  I’m delighted to say – he and I share).

In his presentation and the discussion that follows, Ottmar Edenhofer offers a frank assessment of the European Green Deal’s potential to significantly address the impacts of global climate change. 

“It’s a very good time to talk about the European Green Deal because now the prospects that United States and Europe could work closer together on climate change or climate policy and energy policy are very good,” Ottmar notes, referring to the change in U.S. administrations and recent remarks by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen reaffirming the European Union’s (EU’s) intent to reduce its target for emission reductions from 40 percent to 55 percent by the year 2030 and to achieve net carbon neutrality by the year 2050.

Calling it a “huge task,” Edenhofer outlines the actions that would need to occur to achieve such ambitious goals, including enhanced efforts to decarbonize the power sector, accelerated electrification for end-users, increased investments in bio-energy and semi-synthetic fuels, and advancements in carbon dioxide removal technologies. Using the EU’s climate policy impact assessment as a framework, he walks us through three different policy scenarios, ranging from one that relies heavily on regulation to one structured primarily around carbon pricing.

Characterizing the heavily regulatory approach as a “high-risk scenario,” he instead promotes the idea of an “intermediate step” in a which a mix of policy measures and carbon pricing are deployed to move toward the goal of a 55-percent carbon emissions reduction, and toward a longer-term strategy of using carbon pricing alone as the primary driver in CO2 reduction efforts.

“The crucial question therefore is, how can we design this intermediate step, and this is really the most important debate around this reform proposal,” he says, noting that several issues would need to be addressed.  “The intermediate step has to address the distributional issues and guarantee the stability and manage the political economy challenge between the sectors.”

Professor Edenhofer suggests that the intermediate step that may gain the political support necessary to succeed would be one that would allow for two separate emissions trading systems – one for the energy and industry sector, and the other for transportation and buildings.

“Meanwhile we could define gateways between these two systems. “Creating such gateways might have a two-fold effect – the first one is that market participants already anticipate that there are gateways and they anticipate these enterprise expectations, and this could lead to a convergence of the different prices across the sectors. And secondly, this is a starting point to manage the division of labor among the sectors, and this could be a credible pathway toward a carbon-price scenario when we have one ETS with one credible CO2 price scenario.”

In his presentation, Edenhofer also acknowledges the role that fiscal federalism could play in affecting the future direction of climate policy in Europe. While arguing that carbon pricing could generate roughly 800 billion euros between now and 2050, he notes that the funding base would shrink over time as emissions decrease, and therefore would not serve as a stable revenue source.  He has answers for this challenge as well.

After his presentation, Professor Edenhofer responds to questions from the virtual audience of more than 200 people. One question focuses on the impact of the new Biden-Harris Administration in Washington on global efforts to address climate change.

“The good thing is they are back in the Paris Agreement.  The announcement alone that the U.S. is committed has already helped.”

All of this and much more can be seen and heard in the full webinar here.  I hope you will check it out.

Previous webinars in this series – Conversations on Climate Change and Energy Policy – have featured Meghan O’Sullivan’s thoughts on Geopolitics and Upheaval in Oil Markets, Jake Werksman’s assessment of the European Union’s Green New Deal, Rachel Kyte’s examination of “Using the Pandemic Recovery to Spur the Clean Transition,” Joseph Stiglitz’s reflections on “Carbon Pricing, the COVID-19 Pandemic, and Green Economic Recovery,” Joe Aldy describing “Lessons from Experience for Greening an Economic Stimulus,” and Jason Bordoff commenting on “Prospects for Energy and Climate Change Policy under the New U.S. Administration.”

The next bi-monthly HPCA Conversation on Climate Change and Energy Policy will take place in March.  You can register in advance for that event at the HPCA website.

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The European Green Deal

From his perspective as Principal Advisor to the Directorate General for Climate Action in the European Commission (EC), Jacob Werksman is cautiously optimistic about the direction of international climate policy.  Werksman was my guest in the second webinar of our new series of Conversations on Climate Change and Energy Policy, held July 9th, sponsored by the Harvard Project on Climate Agreements (HPCA)A recording plus transcript of the webinar is available here.

Stavins and Werksman during remote conversation, July 2020
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Jake Werksman’s role since 2012 as Principal Adviser to the Directorate General for Climate Action in the European Commission has focused on the international aspects of European climate policy.  His responsibilities include leading aspects of the European Union negotiations under the Paris Agreement and – more broadly – the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Jake is an international lawyer, and holds a Bachelor’s degree from Columbia University, a J.D. degree from the University of Michigan, and an LL.M. degree from the University of London.  He has been involved in international climate change efforts for more than a decade since he began consulting for the Danish Government leading up to the 15th annual Conference of the Parties (COP-15) in Copenhagen in 2009. It was during that meeting, Werksman remarks, that two different models of international climate policy – the bottom-up ‘pledge and review’ approach versus the top-down legally binding agreement approach – first collided, all but derailing substantive action.

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Jacob Werksman

“Logistically there were huge problems,” he says. “A lot of people would certainly characterize it as not being the success at least that was hoped for.”  (But, I would note, it did lay the foundation for Cancun, and everything after that, which in a sense, led to Paris.)

The Paris Agreement, reached at COP-21 in 2015, obligates signatories to establish and achieve meaningful emissions reduction targets through the use of nationally determined contributions (NDCs), which, when aggregated, are intended to limit the increase of global temperatures to less than two degrees centigrade above pre-industrial levels.

While that goal is obviously jeopardized by the Trump Administration’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, Werksman is encouraged by the global response to that decision.

“The immediate impact of the Trump Administration’s withdrawal from Paris was that it helped to galvanize the international community around Paris. And you see that in the way in which no other party followed suit,” he says. “There may have been some that were on the edge of joining what they might have seen as a populist rejection of Paris and climate policy, but that didn’t happen.”

Much of our discussion focuses on the European Green Deal, the European Commission’s proposed ambitious roadmap to address climate change by increasing the production of renewable energy and increasing energy efficiency, more stringently regulating emissions from industrial and energy sources, and seeking to reduce emissions in the building and transportation sectors.

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Werksman representing the European Union in international climate talks

“There were a lot of bold proposals in the original European Green Deal,” Werksman says.  “As they relate to the international process, they also contain a proposal to move from our existing Paris Agreement targets of at least 40 percent reduction of emissions from 1990 levels by 2030, to a 50 to 55 percent emissions reduction target. And it contains a climate neutrality goal by 2050. So, the EU has committed to being a net zero economy, the first net zero region, by 2050. So, these are very ambitious pushes in the direction of low-carbon and a climate-resilient economy.” 

Werksman says that with the exception of the climate-neutrality goal, which has already been endorsed by EU leaders, all of the other action items in the European Green Deal will still require approval by the European Parliament and the European Council (where each member state has one vote).

A webinar viewer asks Werksman for his assessment of the $100 billion dollar climate pledge made by the richest countries in 2009, prior to the Paris Agreement. Werksman responds that the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which tracks the fund raising efforts, estimates that $70 billion had been raised by 2018, while also stating that more needs to be done to better leverage private finance.

“There are significant public resources available, but we need to get better at using those through leverage and guarantees, participating with private sector banks in the shaping of softer loans in order to get the money flowing to a larger scale,” he remarks.

I wrap up the webinar by asking Jake his opinion of the youth climate movements that swept through the United States and Europe last year, and Werksman responds that he finds them both “inspiring and sobering.”

“They had two messages. One was, we agree with everything that people like me have been saying about the need to act and to act urgently. And why haven’t you succeeded? Why haven’t you done better if we can talk in incremental terms about the kind of progress that we’ve been able to make moving from the Framework Convention to the Paris Agreement? But you try to explain to a young activist who doesn’t see change on the ground how that is success after 30 years of effort and you quickly run out of words,” he says.

“I very much hope that when they’re allowed back on the streets and back into the classrooms that they won’t have forgotten this, and in particular when they’re allowed into the voting booths, they won’t have forgotten this and they will help make up for some of the shortfalls of the efforts that our generation has been making.”

As I noted at the outset, a recording of the webinar with Jake Werksman, including a complete transcript, is available here.  I hope you will check it out.

The previous webinar in this series – Conversations on Climate Change and Energy Policy – featured Meghan O’Sullivan’s thoughts on Geopolitics and Upheaval in Oil Markets.  And the next one is scheduled for 9:00 am (Eastern Time USA), August 19th, when my guest will be Rachel Kyte, Dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and long-time participant in international climate change policy research and action.  Click here to register in advance for that webinar.

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New Publication on Chinese Climate Change Policy

Readers of this blog need not be reminded that climate change is a global commons problem and therefore necessitates cooperation at the highest jurisdictional level – that is, international cooperation among national governments – if it is to be adequately addressed. This points to the key role for national governments to put in place meaningful public policies, consistent with international cooperation.

But sub-national governments can also significantly advance efforts to mitigate climate change. Provinces and municipalities around the world have indeed undertaken initiatives – sometimes working together across national boundaries – to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. This includes jurisdictions in the largest-emitting countries – China, the United States, and India – as well as in the European Union.

A New Publication Now Available on the Internet

We – the Harvard Project on Climate Agreements (HPCA) – have just released a new volume that examines sub-national climate-change policy in China.  The volume focuses to a considerable degree on carbon-pricing policy in China, including how China’s sub-national (pilot) emissions-trading systems can inform the emerging national carbon-pricing system.

The briefs in this volume – edited by Dr. Robert Stowe and myself – draw on presentations and discussion at a research workshop organized by the HPCA in Beijing on July 18 – 19, 2019. The workshop was hosted and co-sponsored by Tsinghua University’s Institute of Energy, Environment, and Economy, directed by Professor Zhang Xiliang. Workshop participants included 24 researchers and practitioners from China, Australia, Canada, India, Norway, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Chinese participants were based in Guangdong Province, Hubei Province, and Shanghai, as well as Beijing.  The agenda and participant list for the workshop are included at the end of the volume.

The volume – and the July 2019 workshop – are part of a larger initiative of the Harvard Project on Climate Agreements examining and comparing sub-national climate-change policy in China, India, the United States, and Canada. The Harvard Project is conducting a similar workshop in New Delhi in the summer of 2020 and will release a volume of briefs on sub-national climate-change policy in India in early 2021.

Overview and Framing

The volume begins with a brief by Zhang Xiliang and Zhou Li that details policies adopted by Chinese provinces and municipalities to address climate change. Ye Qi and Xiaofan Zhao then describe what they see as the most important drivers of climate-change policy in China, providing context for the volume.

Institutional Perspectives

Next, institutional perspectives are provided in four briefs by experts on center-provincial institutional dynamics in China, with applications to climate-change policy. Michael Davidson explores China’s “quasi-federalist” system, and discusses how this system might be leveraged to develop effective institutions for addressing climate change. Gørild Heggelund focuses on China’s national emissions-trading system (ETS).

Tan Xianchun provides a concise yet detailed analysis of China’s administrative systems and procedures for addressing climate change – both carbon pricing and other approaches to reducing emissions, including the results of modeling that estimates the potential impact of a range of “[l]ow-carbon measures and policies” in Chongqing municipality and Guangdong Province.

Providing the final institutional perspective, Christine Wong discusses how the implementation and enforcement of environmental policy in China have evolved over the last decade. She finds that although the central government places greater emphasis on environmental policy than in the past and has provided considerable financial support for implementation and enforcement, renewed financial constraints in a period of low economic growth may prompt sub-national officials to favor carbon pricing over more traditional top-down policy approaches.

Emissions Trading Systems in China:  Lessons for National Policy Design from the Pilots

Three contributors examine lessons for national policy design from experience with the pilot ETSs. Shaozhou Qi assesses the performance of the seven pilot ETSs. Tian Qi provides insights based on his study of Hubei’s pilot ETS, focusing on allowance allocation, as well as the closely-related topics of auction design and market-stability measures. Zeng Xuelan examines a range of GHG emissions-reduction policies in Guangdong Province, noting that Guangdong’s pilot ETS has been its “main mechanism for reducing provincial emissions.”

Zeng also notes the possibility of the central government terminating Guangdong’s ETS after lessons have been incorporated into the national carbon-pricing system.

The fate of the pilot ETSs more broadly is the subject of Valerie Karplus’s brief. She discusses three scenarios: “(1) coexistence, that is, maintaining separate sub-national trading systems alongside the national system; (2) partial integration, which would mean allowing credits from one system to be used in other systems; and (3) full integration, which would involve subsuming the seven sub-national pilots under a single national ETS.” Karplus discusses the tradeoffs among these options and then suggests an approach to strengthening the pilot ETSs that is somewhat independent of the path chosen.

Designing and Implementing China’s National ETS

Four briefs focus on the development of the national carbon-pricing system, though in each case with some reference to the sub-national pilots. Pu Wang identifies a set of important challenges to the implementation of the national system, concluding in part – as did Heggelund – that “institutional capacity related to the carbon market needs to be significantly enhanced at all levels, from the central government to the local level.”

We Libo discusses the results of a modeling initiative that explores sub-national distributional impacts of various trading-intensity and allowance-allocation scenarios. Zhang Jianyu presents ten policy recommendations for the implementation of the national system. Among these, he suggests that the pilot ETSs can continue to play a useful role after the national system is implemented, and that the central government should continue to support the pilots.

Finally, Fei Teng examines the important relationship between the power sector in China and the performance of the national carbon-pricing system. The power sector is highly regulated, though the central government is pursuing market-oriented reforms. Teng presents three options for passing through higher electricity costs resulting from carbon-pricing to electricity consumers, with one option including trading in generation rights.

Comparative Perspectives on Sub-National Policy

The final section of the volume includes three briefs providing cross-national comparative context on sub-national climate-change policy.

Radhika Khosla writes on India, Robert Stavins on the United States, and Katie Sullivan and Ellen Lourie on Canada.

Final Thoughts

Each of the seventeen briefs in the volume begins with several key points, and the seventeen sets of key points are compiled immediately following an introduction. We hope that this structure renders the insights, research results, and analysis contained in the briefs more readily accessible.

The Harvard Project on Climate Agreements is grateful to the Harvard Global Institute, which provides generous support for the initiative of which this volume and the July 2019 workshop in Beijing are part. We are also grateful for our ongoing collaboration with Professor Zhang Xiliang and his colleagues – a collaboration that has yielded insights that we hope prove useful to researchers and policy makers working to address the problem of climate change.

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