Transatlantic Energy Plan Crucial For Tackling Climate Change
The European Union and United States have an opportunity to formulate a cohesive climate policy at the UN Climate Summit that could vastly reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. Presently, the Obama Administration and the European Commission contain both the political will and resources to implement a shift towards renewable energy technologies. This could yield a systematic divestment from fossil fuels, particularly crude oil, but this may not be enough.
Considerable opposition, backed by influential fossil fuel lobbies across both regions, continues to derail meaningful attempts to address climate change. A conclusion to the prolonged TTIP negotiations that includes a sustainable energy framework would offer substantial political and economic impetus to both blocs.
The UN Climate Summit in Paris this coming December could offer an opportunity to make energy a focal policy for national leaders. This will require a general consensus across nations to invest heavily in clean energy. Shrewd diplomacy will be required given the opposition from fossil-dependent states who fear lower revenues, increased unemployment and a stronger comparative advantage for wealthier countries better able to cope with fossil fuel divestment.
It is difficult to imagine a united transatlantic energy policy given the fragmented political environment within both blocs. Political leaders must also manage an energy framework into any agreement that meets the varying demands and preferences among E.U. and U.S. states. For example, clean energy investment faces particularly strong opposition from fossil fuel regions, such as Eastern Europe and the Midwestern United States.
Nevertheless there are a number of geopolitical advantages for both blocs if a unified energy framework were to be established. A core concept behind the Commission's energy union is to decrease member states' dependence on Russian natural gas supplies, particularly in light of the conflict in Ukraine. The U.S. will begin exporting liquefied natural gas (LNG), with a number of export facilities approved for construction. Meeting Europe's energy demands would be a significant victory over Russian hegemonic policy while enhancing the EU's energy security, as well as consolidating economic and political ties between the two blocs. Of course, any such framework is a long way off, given the unknown cost of US LNG exports and a lacking pipeline network to connect member states.
Russia can still supply the European Union with the cheapest natural gas, maintaining its geopolitical leverage unless the United States can provide a viable alternative. Much will depend on concluding the TTIP negotiations and the result of the next Presidential election that will alter the direction of U.S. energy policy. A Republican candidate could further stall the negotiations to protect American manufacturers and will likely ignore any climate mandate created at Paris.
The Obama Administration and European Commission must implement long-lasting policies following the UN Climate Summit this December. Any Republican candidate will immediately seek to dismantle Obama's clean energy legacy and restore favour to fossil fuel industries. There are common problems on both sides of the transatlantic axis – partisan opposition to clean energy investment and the overarching influence of major oil and gas companies on local economies. Despite continually battling a Republican-dominated Congress, the Clean Power Plan underlines how Obama's executive powers still afford his Administration a certain leverage.
The European Commission meanwhile must negotiate with a United Kingdom government that is staunchly resisting any moves towards an energy union. It will be very interesting to see how David Cameron will react to a proposed global climate agenda, given the tax incentives he has given to oil & gas companies since coming to power in 2010. The coalition of the UK and Eastern European member states will not be easily persuaded to abandon their investment in fossil fuel industries.
In the face of considerable opposition, a transatlantic framework could be comprehensive enough to bring about a shift in attitudes from resistant parties on both sides of the Atlantic - heralding a commitment to clean energy. In a time of such political and economic discord, it seems the only viable option.
Conor O'Sullivan is an M.S. Graduate of NYU's Center for Global Affairs with a concentration in International Relations and an editor at Breaking Media – an online media company based in New York.
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