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.”