Global climate protection efforts following the Paris Agreement must focus on how to translate commitments into concrete action and progress. The U.S. and Germany are two important leaders impacting global climate policies. However, the 2016 presidential election has created new setbacks for US energy and climate policy. The Trump Administration’s proclaimed climate skepticism, preference for fossil fuels, and key agency appointments have moved things in a decidedly different direction. Given the potential difficulty of national-level cooperation, our recommendations involve cultivating relationships and creating collaboration opportunities among private sector actors, the research community, and state level policymakers and regulators across the Atlantic.
1. Push the private sector to adopt a carbon pricing scheme.
The EU’s carbon pricing mechanism is the world’s largest emission trading system, accounting for 75% of the international carbon trade. The US, despite being one of the top global CO2 emitters, has yet to adopt a carbon pricing mechanism; at the subnational level, California is the only state to have adopted a carbon pricing scheme. In the short-term, given the Trump administration’s climate skepticism, progress on this at the federal level is unlikely. However, actors in the private sector can take independent action and in the longer-term serve as impetus for more governmental action. For instance, forward-thinking businesses are already themselves turning to carbon pricing schemes such as “shadow carbon pricing” or carbon proxy pricing, as a way to prepare the shift towards a future with low-carbon technologies and investments. As an increasing number of companies follow this trend, the private sector is in a prime position to move to the forefront of the carbon pricing dialogue. Greater corporate pressure and awareness can generate impetus for movement on the issue of a carbon pricing scheme at a state level in the US. Partnerships between the private sector and subnational or national policymakers can create the necessary coalition to advance federal climate efforts over the long term.
2. Promote sustainable energy tools and concepts abroad and manage the side effects of the energy transition.
A related challenge for climate protection is energy policy and managing the side effects of the energy transition. Given the degree to which political debate has focused on the fate of coal country and mining sectors, Trump is likely to lead the U.S. to a more pro-fossil fuel federal energy policy, including a renewed emphasis on coal. There is potential for this to replicate itself to some degree in Germany through the AfD. Amid the perceived backlash against the transition from coal to clean energy, policymakers across the Atlantic committed to climate protection should work together to mitigate this discourse, sharing best practices and ideas on how to manage energy sector economic changes, and engaging with communities that will lose out from such developments.
Meanwhile, many other countries are currently grappling with how to provide reliable and affordable energy while meeting sustainability goals and keeping their climate commitments under the INDCs. Examples set by the U.S. and Germany can provide motivation for emerging economies to move towards renewable energy, but many countries who are willing to move forward with climate protection efforts lack expertise or capacity in designing policies and regulations, technology development and application, and managing transition. Germany and the U.S. should leverage their shared expertise and leadership by providing technical support, sharing best practices, and providing financial support to such developing countries. Acknowledging the current political climate in the U.S., however, German policymakers and private sector leaders can reach out to state-level and private sector partners in the U.S. to develop such an initiative.
3. Invest more in global environmental protection efforts.
Finally, the US and EU should serve as international models in environmental protection. Deforestation accounts for approximately 15% of GHG emissions. As patrons of global market growth and industrialization, the EU and US also hold responsibility to support forest and ecosystem conservation in emerging market countries, such as Brazil, India, Indonesia. One such mechanism is REDD+ (Reducing carbon Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation) programs, which inform and incentivize forest conservation in the world’s most vulnerable areas. One goal of this U.N. supported program is to measure, report and verify implemented efforts to reduce emissions in carbon hotspots. Germany and the US are the third and fourth largest contributors to the program. The two can both significantly increase their funding and have a decisive impact on REDD+ programs. Such an effort is key to monitor and reinforce the global the Paris Agreement goals.
Andrea Becerra is an International Relations graduate student at the Fletcher School focusing on Environmental Resource Policy and Development Economics.
Michael David Harris is a Civil Affairs Specialist for the US Army Reserve and also instructs high school students on debating foreign policy in Chicago, IL.
Brian Marrs is the Director of Policy & Strategy for NRG Energy, Inc., a Fortune 200 company and the largest owner & operator of competitive power generation in the United States.
Ellen Scholl works on the intersection of energy and foreign policy at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP), and is a former Robert Bosch Fellow.
Jiayi Zhou is a Researcher at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).