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.
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.
“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.
“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.