World leaders will finally meet in Glasgow for COP26 next week after months of planning and amid major signals from previously climate-skeptical nations that they are now taking global warming more seriously.
In the UN General Assembly. Chinese President Xi Jinping promised that China would stop financing new coal plants abroad, but the blackouts in October cast doubt on Beijing’s timetable for ending the use of coal in the country. In Turkey, President Erdogan finally ratified the Paris Agreement.
Meanwhile, panic over skyrocketing gas, oil and electricity prices, while unrelated to the carbon transition, has highlighted the need for genuine and sustainable energy security.
But COP26 will inevitably disappoint by offering clear pathways for the emission reductions that the IPCC’s sixth assessment report suggests should be delivered in the next decade.
One of the key reasons for this is that even though the US has re-engaged internationally under the Biden administration, and has lobbied other states to move faster and faster in their transition away from carbon , there is no clear blueprint for how the US will transform its own economy.
In order to get his budget approved by Congress, Biden appears to be lowering even the cautious level of ambition in his clean energy program. Why should others accept risks to the competitiveness of their domestic industries by moving first, when the world’s largest emitters are not yet establishing their position?
To the eu
This risks a post-COP26 dip in climate action. Once the excitement of Glasgow has passed, we will continue to face the reality of insufficient change, now knowing that world leadership is not up to the task of handling the political and geopolitical challenges to address it.
This is where the EU will come into play, as a facilitator of a more gradual, great green deal.
As the first global player to present concrete plans on how to reduce net greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030, compared to 1990 levels, in the announcements of the European Green Deal in 2020 and the Fit for package. 55 of this year, the The EU has credibility where the United States does not.
Later in the transition than many others, you can lead by example, share, and market your experiences. It is a major advanced economy, a donor and an export market, as well as a regulatory superpower. It can offer significant expertise in intellectual property and essential infrastructure for the carbon transition to countries with less developed plans.
The EU is not yet a geopolitical heavyweight, at the US level, capable of posing a credible threat to use all aspects of its economic power collectively, to bolster its bargaining position at COP26.
The divisions and dislocations within the EU are all too well known, both by the leaders of its own institutions charged with attending the climate talks on its behalf and by the governments of other countries.
Instead, European climate power is about the ability to generate change on a more mechanical level, through the EU’s interactions with other countries, both those that are convinced of the need to transform their economies urgently and those that they are less so.
Ensuring through its trading tools, such as CBAM, that trading partners have no choice but to move away from carbon intensive production if they want to export to the EU.
Ensuring by developing European green technology capacity and innovation, and underpinning the supply chains of necessary raw materials, that it is not just China that shapes the development of the technologies necessary for a global revolution.
Offering green financing and leveraging private sector investment so that the developing world can seize the opportunities they see in the green revolution.
Restructuring the concept of energy security to focus on clean energy and resource efficiency.
And pressing for an exploration of which energy market reforms would most effectively promote the development of the renewable energy sector to meet the consequent demand for it.
The EU can support the UK COP Presidency, the COP secretariat and other world leaders such as the United States to speak out on the need for climate action in Glasgow next week.
But Europe’s climate leadership will rebound after the leaders have gone home, putting the full range of external tools into action to engage in rebalancing geopolitics as the world shifts away from carbon.
Susi Dennison is the director of ECFR’s European Power program.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism