The Hague, December 17 (IPS) – America has an eventful past when it comes to international environmental diplomacy. It was at the forefront of the international struggle to repair the ozone hole and has shaped many important international agreements.
Unfortunately, US positions at home are not always built on solid political foundations. Twice in climate change, this has resulted in the United States making a deal only to walk away. It did so with the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which then Vice President Gore flew to Japan to sign, knowing full well that a Republican-dominated Senate would never ratify the deal. It happened again five years ago when former President Obama made this landmark deal (and signed John Kerry at the United Nations), only for President Trump to rip it apart a few weeks later.
Yvo de Boer Against this backdrop, the international community is a little nervous when a new democratic government takes the helm with robust statements and bold promises, as President-elect Biden is doing now. But as so often, the prodigal son will get the benefit of the doubt (again) and for good reason!
Let’s look at these reasons.
No one would argue the fact that the United States is a political powerhouse and an economic superpower. For this reason, having the US in the climate protection tent is vital. But why? Is it about political stance or is there anything more?
If the Biden government takes ambitious leadership in climate action, the world is wise to pay attention. Clear signals from politicians as to where the new government should go have enormous power in the market. An example. Wind and solar energy made it in a hostile economic environment in which the competitive conditions were anything but balanced.
The environmental costs are not internalized and fossil fuels are still heavily subsidized. What has helped bring wind and sun up to the current level of competitiveness is the hope that things will change in the long term and new (climate) challenges will be recognized, creating a viable market for these technologies.
If you are building things (power plants, factories or refineries) with a technical lifespan of 40 years, you should think carefully about how friendly or hostile the operating environment is likely to be during that period. So a political statement sends strong market signals. Especially when it comes from a superpower and even more so when others are pointing in the same direction.
How the market reacts to political signals has an impact worldwide. Our economy is really global now. This means that important market participants who take a course, set standards or place demands on their suppliers, find a worldwide response. The EU, which agrees car standards with European manufacturers, immediately sets a trend that Japan and Korea must follow because the European market is so large. American companies like Wall Mart have hundreds of thousands of suppliers around the world. A direction that is taken in a company headquarters is implemented in pretty much every country on our planet. The standards that the US and other key players set become imperatives or things you ignore at your own risk.
Another important point is that climate protection has increasingly become an innovation-driven race to the top. Innovators smell like a climate market and hurry to take advantage of the opportunities. Opportunities around electric vehicles, energy efficiency, clean technologies, low-wealth business models, as you call it. America has long been at the forefront of discovery and innovation. Many of the key technologies we use today have at least some of their roots in America. The signals that politicians send and how the business community is reacting are creating a catalyst for innovation that is transforming business opportunities both in the US and around the world.
One final point to mention here is America’s proud history of working with other nations to provide them with the financial, technological, and capacitive support they need to keep their energy systems, industries, and infrastructure climate-proof. Reducing emissions in today’s economic engines is obviously critical. However, given future economic and population growth in Africa and Southeast Asia, we need to regulate the future, not just the past.
Five years after the Paris Climate Agreement was reached, the international process is now in full implementation. The aim of the negotiations is to ensure that countries individually deliver what they have promised and that the collective impact of their efforts is sufficient to keep global temperature rise below agreed levels.
The return of the United States to the international process at this point is critical to ensure that key players in particular, both domestically and internationally, take the lead. Ultimately, it is in the US’s own best interest to ensure that this happens for several reasons. First, because in recent years the US has always viewed the actions of others, especially China, as a prerequisite for its own commitment. Second, because bold global action will ensure that all nations focus their weight on a common goal. Third, because this global action will create the opportunities for the future president-elect’s innovation economy that Biden seeks to offer in contrast to the manufacturing economy of the past.
The outgoing President Trump model should make America great again.
The author is President of the Gold Standard Foundation and former Secretary of the UN Climate Change Convention.
Follow @IPSNewsUNBureauFollow IPS New UN Bureau on Instagram
(2020) – All rights reserved