Following the Paris Agreement, climate commitments must be backed by concrete action. Meeting the obligations under the Agreement will require effective and innovative policy solutions and transformation in the energy sector and beyond. The US and Germany, as climate leaders and policy pioneers, are at the forefront of these efforts and should expand cooperation beyond the federal level to include states, cities, local actors, and private sector-stakeholders on both sides. In addition to the benefits of expanded cooperation, the Trump Administration’s climate skepticism, preference for fossil fuels, and Cabinet appointments make sub-national engagement a necessity. This will not only provide a path forward toward combatting climate change, but will help broaden and modernize the transatlantic relationship, expanding cooperation beyond traditional sectors and opening additional opportunities for bilateral and multilateral engagement.
German policymakers should reach out to US stakeholders at the state and local level and engage with the private sector, research communities, and NGOs to foster an inclusive energy transition, share best practices, and develop a policy toolbox. Cities can be a key driver of change, as illustrated by the work being done through the Rockefeller 100 Resilient Cities, C40 Cities, and the World Mayors Council on Climate Change, while California, with its commitment to climate mitigation, and Texas, with its success in renewable integration and grid expansion, could be complementary cooperation partners.
Fostering an Inclusive Energy Transition
A persuasive climate policy must acknowledge the social, economic, and political dimensions of the energy transition and strive to ameliorate the negative side effects and extending benefits to those in the system. As populist political movements in the US and Germany express working class grievances (including the coal mining communities in the US, which lost 10,000 jobs in 2015), understanding and managing these concerns and side effects is crucial. Policymakers on both sides of the Atlantic should recognize that the transition to a low-carbon future will cause change (and upheaval) and transformation throughout the economy. Far from being limited to the energy sector, transport, manufacturing, housing, urban development, and many related fields will be impacted.
Mitigating the downsides of such a transition and amplifying its positive side effects are key aspects of the energy transition. To support communities in transition, smart incentives and tax breaks could help encourage investment in former fossil fuel and manufacturing communities. Policies can incentivize clean technology companies to hire former fossil fuel employees or locate their sites in towns or states with a history of coal production. Policymakers should also work with the private sector to design job (re-)training programs for workers seeking to transition from the fossil to the renewables sector and rethinking how best to prepare workers for jobs in sustainability and clean technology.
In addition to managing the economic upheaval brought by energy sector transformation and broader changes required to meet the 2-degree target, policymakers should focus on the positive economic impacts of climate protection. Increased investment in renewable energy offers the potential to create hundreds of thousands of jobs, while investments in a more modern and efficient energy system can yield energy savings for businesses and consumers and reduce energy bills. Political narratives should emphasize the benefits of an energy transition to consumers and business owners and provide a positive vision rooted in concrete data to counter climate skepticism.
Sharing Expertise at Home and Abroad
While falling renewable energy costs have made the energy transition viable, challenges still remain. Modernizing electric grids and integrating intermittent renewables is a particular challenge in which several US states, including Texas and California, have developed deep expertise. German cooperation with state partners could facilitate the exchange of best practices, critical for Germany as it struggles with grid expansion and loop flows. Both countries are struggling to address the transportation sector, including the integration of e-mobility architecture (for clean and efficient transport like electric vehicles). Stakeholder engagement between Germany, with its globally recognized automotive sector, and US states with various e-mobility strategies could provide an opportunity to discuss policy models and foster cooperation between industry and policymakers.
Countries outside of the US and Germany are struggling to provide reliable and affordable energy while meeting sustainability goals and intended Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) commitments. Many emerging economies and developing countries are interested in creating more sustainable energy systems, but lack expertise or capacity in designing policies and regulations, technology development and deployment, and managing the transition. Germany and the US have the opportunity to leverage their shared expertise and leadership by providing technical and financial support and sharing best practices. Experts from both sides should work together to create a policy toolbox outlining best practices and policy options to tackle climate change adaptation and mitigation. This toolbox would provide a range of options for policymakers in countries with differing developmental levels and resource profiles, allowing them to draw on the collective expertise in Germany and the US while pursuing solutions tailored to their needs.
As part of the toolbox, interested countries could apply for assistance from US-German partners. This assistance would not be purely financial, but would range from expert visits or exchanges to discuss policy options and implementation to conferences with interested private sector actors. This could include peer-to-peer exchange, expert visits, and creation of public and private sector networks between the US, Germany, and interested emerging economies. Such initiatives could be developed at relatively little cost, potentially with funding from businesses or NGOs. Universities could also serve as a key link in this exchange, bringing climate scientists and energy sector researchers from emerging economies to the US or Germany to research technological and policy solutions.
Broadening both the concept of assistance and the stakeholders involved would enable US participation even if federal climate action–and funding–is not forthcoming. The development of a toolbox and assistance programs could also help bridge the gap in the debate over differentiated responsibility, allowing the US and Germany to provide assistance (financial, technical, knowledge transfer, etc.) to developing countries and shoulder their share of climate responsibility.