A Transatlantic Green Deal Can Revive the US-EU Partnership

The so-called Green Deals on the table in Europe and the US present an enticing prospect to rejuvenate the greatly diminished transatlantic relationship — and help hit crucial climate targets before it is too late. The European Green Deal, proposed last year with much fanfare by EU commission president Ursula von der Leyen, overlaps significantly with the Green New Deal, an ecological spending program devised by congressional Democrats and endorsed by the party’s presidential candidate, Joe Biden. Paul Hockenos reports

Climate protection is on the agenda of democrats in the US. (CC BY 2.0, Jeff Djevdet))

A Transatlantic Green Deal Can Revive the US-EU Partnership

Should the Democrats win in November, repair of the Atlantic alliance and equally neglected climate programs should be top on the agenda. Since so many tenets of the post-war Atlantic partnership have irrevocably shifted, a new pillar of multilateral cooperation and soft geopolitical power would be greatly welcome. Climate protection, the raison d’être of the Green Deals, fits this bill perfectly.

In light of the urgency of the climate crisis, the US and Europe should forge an operational alliance to fight global warming and call it the Transatlantic Green Deal. Together, the world’s second and third largest emitters could lead the way to achieving climate neutrality – namely net-zero greenhouse gas emissions – across the globe, the key goal of the 2015 UN Paris climate accord.

“Rather than working against each other in zero-sum competition,” says Toby Couture, director of the Berlin-based think tank E3 Analytics, “the US and Europe could reshape the global debate on climate, refocusing it on where the focus should lie, namely innovation, jobs, and green infrastructure. The potential for a major turning point is definitely there.”

Should the Democrats prevail in November, they will have a willing partner in the EU, which has already committed itself to sustainable modernization and new climate targets. The coronavirus pandemic’s recovery programs – both on the EU and national levels – will bolster these priorities with significant additional spending.

Even if the proposed EU budget is less green than environmental watchdog organizations would like, von der Leyen has said that all EU spending should be aligned with the goal of achieving a climate-neutral economy. She has proposed a €1.85 trillion stimulus, which includes the bloc’s 2021-2027 budget, much of which will go towards future-oriented sectors, such as green infrastructure and technologies, as well as digitalization. In coming decades, transportation, buildings, waste, industry, and agriculture will all undergo decarbonization. Also part of the Green Deal, the EU recently indicated that it wants to bump up its 2030 carbon emissions reduction goal from 40% to 55% from 1990 levels.

The first logical step for a new US administration would be to remain in the Paris Agreement – President Trump has not yet withdrawn the US – and put the country back on track to cutting greenhouse gas emissions, as the pact stipulates, by 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. Then it must  set a new, more ambitious target for cutting emissions by at least 43% in 2030, as called for by the Center for American Progress, a US think tank, in its 100 Percent Clean Future plan. This would put the US on a net-zero-by-2050 path, just as the EU is, and set a compelling global precedent.

In the US, a massive stimulus to boost post-coronavirus recovery that invests in sustainable infrastructure and technologies would add back jobs and stimulate growth. (This may be less foreign to Americans than it sounds as President Obama’s 2009  financial-crisis stimulus included ample monies for clean tech and a life-saving loan to a little-known company named Tesla.) The Democrats’ Green New Deal rightly underscores investment in zero-emission vehicle infrastructure and manufacturing, public transit, expanding and upgrading renewable power sources, smart power grids, and spurring massive growth in clean manufacturing.

In an effort to cut polluting emissions and level the playing field for transatlantic trade, the US could adopt a carbon pricing system along the lines of the EU’s Emissions Trading Scheme, a carbon market that taxes emissions by the ton for energy generation and industrial processes. Biden supports the idea of introducing a price on carbon emissions in the US, though he has shared no specifics. If the US and Europe could get on the same page, cross-Atlantic trade would flow more seamlessly. If this doesn’t happen, the EU’s planned carbon border tax, a disincentive for companies that operate in countries with lax environmental norms, would apply to US companies and severely impact transatlantic commerce.

Moreover, together the owners of the world’s largest consumer markets could then forge preferential trade agreements with other countries stipulating that they too uphold environmental standards – or forgo penalty-free access to the enormous transatlantic market. This kind of combined clout could perhaps sway a country like Brazil from destroying the Amazon rainforest, an important global sink for carbon dioxide.

And by rapidly phasing out coal production at the same time the US and Europe would obviate the complaint of industry that removing cheap coal from energy portfolios unfairly disadvantages them vis-à-vis others on the market. As for exiting coal, the Europeans could learn something valuable from the US since it – despite Trump administration efforts to revive the industry – has reduced coal-generated power from 54% of supply in 2010 to roughly 20% today.

Indeed, state subsidies to all fossil fuels should be stopped at once, which would greatly boost the marketability of the renewable energies promoted by the stimulus. Europe’s investment bank, the EIB, has already barred funding for almost all fossil fuel projects as of 2022.

There are already fora for transatlantic action on energy and climate such as the EU-US Energy Council that could immediately be revived, and put on track to support a renewables transition. In the past it had addressed common standards for clean technologies, research collaboration, and coordinated emissions reductions. In no field would scientific teamwork make more sense than in hydrogen energy, a breaking renewable energy field. Ultimately, a common hydrogen market would accrue advantages across the Atlantic in terms of scaling and cost.

And then, as global heavyweights, mustering support for the developing world’s low-carbon transition should be high on the to-do list. The transatlantic partners could begin by restoring the $3 billion pledged by President Barack Obama (and reneged upon by Trump) to the Green Climate Fund, which is the world’s largest fund helping developing countries reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

Indeed, acting in unison, the Atlantic alliance could be the dominant player at the COP26 UN Climate Conference in Glasgow in November 2021. This is where all of the Paris signatories will hammer out their emissions reduction targets for the next decade – a pivotal moment for the climate.

This agenda is just the beginning as there is much work to do to keep global warming under 1.5 degrees Celsius. But in that work together, perhaps Americans and Europeans will rediscover the positive energy and synergies that bound them so closely for decades.


Paul Hockenos is a Berlin-based journalist and author of Berlin Calling: A Story of Anarchy, Music, the Wall and the Birth of the New Berlin.

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