US and EU need to be on same page in climate change battle

As Biden, von der Leyen sought to find common ground, EU countries agreed to promote global phasing out of fossil fuel as they prepare for COP28 in Dubai

By Jon Van Housen and Mariella Radaelli

  • Follow us on
  • google-news
  • whatsapp
  • telegram


Photo: AP file
Photo: AP file

Published: Wed 15 Mar 2023, 9:24 PM

Last updated: Wed 15 Mar 2023, 10:17 PM

As European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen met with US President Joe Biden late last week about US subsidies for electric vehicle components, it was abundantly clear that it is time for the two regions to move beyond trade tensions and get on the same page in the battle against climate change.

Following strained relations with the previous US administration as well as a global pandemic, outbreak of armed conflict in Europe and an energy crisis, the two long-allied regions now need to reach agreements to support one another in concerted efforts on electric vehicles and other eco-projects to protect future generations.

The two sides took a step in that direction when they announced after Oval Office talks last Friday that negotiations will begin on giving EU producers of critical minerals access to the US market under Biden’s signature programme to encourage climate-friendly industries. They also pledged to better coordinate as both the US and EU economies pivot toward the booming green sector.

And as Europe emerges from a winter that many feared — due to a potential energy shortage that loomed last autumn — it is clear the EU is not only prepared to move forward in the battle against climate change, it is also prepared to lead the way if need be.

Encouraged by the response from member states and citizens in conserving energy through the depths of winter, the bloc just announced an even more ambitious target for reducing energy consumption. It now plans to reduce overall energy use by 11.7 per cent by 2030, a more ambitious target that the previously approved 9 per cent. The latest figure was a compromise in negotiations between the EU Parliament — which wanted a 14 per cent target — and leaders of the 27 EU member states, some of which were pushing for retention of the previous 9 per cent goal.

For its part, the Biden administration says it has a target of reducing US greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50 per cent by 2030 compared to 2005.

A convergence of moral imperatives and political correctness, the push for a greener global society has also opened up the possibility of misuse or even exploitation of the issue. Many in Europe thought Biden’s policies went too far in offering tax breaks for electric vehicles made exclusively with US components or those from countries with which the US has a free trade agreement. While the EU and US are some of the most active and historic trade blocs in the world, they are not free trade partners.

Amid an EU alarm that a “made in America” clause in Biden’s so-called Inflation Reduction Act would hurt European-based energy and auto sectors, the EU responded with its own set of incentives called the Green Deal Industrial Plan.

Following talks at the White House last week, Biden and von der Leyen issued a joint statement that progress was made on an exemption for European producers seeking to export critical minerals for electric vehicle batteries.

They also announced the launch of an initiative called the Clean Energy Incentives Dialogue to coordinate programmes in the two regions so that they are mutually reinforcing. The statement added that both sides will take steps to avoid disruptions in transatlantic trade and investment flows that could arise from incentive packages.

As well, they announced some movement on easing US tariffs imposed on European steel and aluminum. Negotiations are planned to conclude in October with a resumption of market-oriented trade in “low-carbon intensity steel and aluminum”.

The announcements might have elicited a sigh of relief from a European business community battered by a range of hardships. Yet even as it yearns for relief, the private sector knows it must remain determined on climate change following last summer, when heat, drought and other weather-related records were broken across the continent.

Though they often struggle to keep up with the bewildering range of well-meaning laws passed by the EU Parliament, business interests in the bloc know that the changing climate has a real impact on their bottom line. No doubt among the projections by sophisticated corporations are calculations on what the changing climate means for their business over the long term.

As Biden and von der Leyen sought to find common ground in their talks on Friday, the previous day EU countries agreed to promote a global phasing out of fossil fuel as they prepare for the United Nation’s COP28 climate summit set to start in Dubai on November 30. Pushed by the scare of potential energy shortages last fall, EU member states seem determined to take the path to sustainable, clean energy even if it means significant short-term hardship.

The newfound US-EU bonhomie will need to work towards a mutually supportive supply chain in not only electric vehicle batteries, but also for wind and solar power equipment.

There is little room left for delay and equivocation. Just as they joined hands in rebuilding after WWII, the US and Europe must cooperate to meet the existential threat of climate change. It is certainly not the time for either side to seek unfair advantage amid a shared crisis.

(Jon Van Housen and Mariella Radaelli are international veteran journalists based in Italy.)

More news from Opinion