Can Europe Decarbonize in the Midst of a Geopolitical Crisis?

Is the geopolitical crisis due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine likely to accelerate or retard the energy transformation in the European Union?  This and related topics on decarbonizing Europe were central to the most recent webinar in our series, Conversations on Climate Change and Energy Policy, sponsored by the Harvard Project on Climate Agreements (HPCA).  This time, we featured a conversation with Dan Jørgensen, the Danish Minister of Climate, Energy, and Utilities, who expressed his hope (if not expectation) that the tragic war in Ukraine will help accelerate the clean energy transformation by weaning Europe off Russian gas.  A video recording (and transcript) of the entire webinar is available here.

As many readers of this blog know, in this webinar series I feature leading authorities on climate change policy, whether from academia, the private sector, NGOs, or government.  In this most recent Conversation, I was fortunate to engage with someone who has had solid and important experience in government.

Dan Jørgensen, who played a significant role in maintaining the focus on reducing the rise of global temperatures during the 26th Conference of the Parties (COP-26) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Glasgow last November, lauded the efforts of European countries like Greece that are proclaiming their intent to reduce their use of Russian gas in favor of other energy sources, although Greece has simultaneously announced that it will therefore have to increase its use of coal for electricity generation.

“One of the few positive things that might come out of a terrible situation is that we will now be forced to speed up the green transformation away from fossils in Europe,” Jørgensen says. “It has opened the eyes… I think, for decision makers all over Europe to ramp up the replacement of fossils – that’s gas, that’s oil, that’s coal, with renewables. And we have a lot of potential for that in Europe.”

Jørgensen talks about important legislation being negotiated in the European Union which would create new directives on energy efficiency and renewable energy that could, he states, help EU countries greatly reduce their dependency on Russian fossil fuel.

Much of the discussion also focuses on COP-26 and the decision by participating countries to agree on language calling for a “phase down” of unabated coal and to reduce inefficient fossil fuel subsidies.

“On one hand, I’m disappointed that the text is not stronger than it is on those issues. On the other hand, it is really huge progress that it’s now in the text, meaning that…[it will be] the starting point for the next negotiations [at COP-27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt],” Jørgensen remarks. “The overall result was a positive one. There was some real progress. But first and foremost, the aim of the COP-26 meeting was to keep 1.5 alive, so to speak. What does that mean? It means that if we hadn’t made the decisions that we actually made then…it would be almost impossible for us to keep the promise of staying below 1.5 alive, and it wouldn’t be credible.”

Looking ahead to COP-27, Jørgensen says negotiators will focus on the promise of more ambitious nationally determined contributions (NDCs) as well as questions surrounding finance for developing countries requiring short-term assistance to reduce their dependency on fossil fuels and adapt to climate change.

“I do understand how some of the growing economies of this planet that are also now amongst the biggest emitters, why they think it’s only fair that the richer countries of the planet help them in the transformation,” he states. “We have a climate problem because rich countries have been polluting for more than 100 years. Now, some countries are raising their standard of living and…starting to pollute more. But I don’t really think it would be fair for us to say, ‘You cannot have the same standard of living as we do.’ That would not be legitimate, in my point of view. And it wouldn’t be fair if we didn’t also offer help to mitigate the problem. So, we need to have a clear focus on the financing part.”

Jørgensen also shares his thoughts on the potential for carbon trading systems to reduce global emissions, arguing that pricing can be complicated but is absolutely necessary.

“We need clear price signals in the market,” he says. “It needs to be more expensive to produce in a way where you’re dependent on fossil fuels and less expensive to do the opposite.”

I ask Jørgensen about the European Union’s Emissions Trading System (EU ETS), established in 2005 as the first large greenhouse gas emissions trading scheme in the world, and which now covers more than 11,000 factories, power stations, and other installations in 31 countries, including all 27 EU countries.

“It is actually pretty incredible that we have this well-functioning system with 27 countries that is economically rational, that works, that cuts emissions, even in times of crisis where normally many countries will probably say, ‘Okay, well, we want to save the climate, but we need to get through this crisis first,’” he says. “In times of crisis like that, it’s extremely important that we have these systems. And what I like especially about it is that it’s a win-win. I mean, it is the cheapest, most efficient way of making a transformation.”

During the forum, Jørgensen also responds to questions from attendees from around the world, including questions focusing on carbon capture and sequestration, solar radiation management, methane, nuclear power, and the youth climate movement. 

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

Previous episodes 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,” Jason Bordoff commenting on “Prospects for Energy and Climate Change Policy under the New U.S. Administration,” Ottmar Edenhofer talking about “The Future of European Climate Change Policy,” Nathaniel Keohane reflecting on “The Path Ahead for Climate Change Policy,” Valerie Karplus talking about “The Future of China’s National Carbon Market,” Laurence Tubiana reflecting on “A European Perspective on COP26,” and Congressman Garret Graves on “U.S. Climate Change Policy in an Era of Political Polarization.”

Watch for an announcement about our next webinar. You will be able to register in advance for the event on the website of the Harvard Project on Climate Agreements.  

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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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