After what felt like the election that will never end, former Vice-President Joe Biden and California Senator Kamala Harris were projected to have won the US elections on Saturday. One of the inevitable results of this was the sudden outpouring of congratulatory messages, with each sender seeking to declare what they think the new priorities of a renewed relationship between the United States and their country. The EU is no exception to that, with Manfred Weber, leader of the European People’s Party, the largest political group in the European Parliament, who tweeted about needing to “restart” the transatlantic relationship.
Foreign policy is an area where US Presidents have the most leeway, especially compared to domestic policy, and as such it looks a likely bet for where changes from the Biden Presidency would immediately be the most visible. Much of the post-election analysis has, rightly, focused on what a Joe Biden Presidency would change with regards to its foreign policy approaches around the world. Within what promises to be a new American approach to foreign policy, we are likely to see climate diplomacy feature quite heavily.
The European Union is particularly interested in such a promised change of approach as they believe this will lead to the United States returning to the Paris Agreement and rejoining the fight against climate change that the European Union has tried to lead in the absence of the United States. With a Biden Presidency promising change on this front, what exactly does this mean for the United States and how would it potentially affect its relationship with the EU?
The Biden Plan does indeed promise a drastic change of approach on the climate front, stating that a Biden Presidency “will fully integrate climate change into our foreign policy and national security strategies, as well as our approach to trade.” The plan also promises a recommitment to the Paris Agreement, but says that the United States will go even further and “lead an effort to get every major country to ramp up the ambition of their domestic climate targets” and “use every tool of American foreign policy to push the rest of the world to raise their ambitions alongside the United States.” The Plan also highlights a desire to convene a climate world summit, composed of the world’s major carbon emitters to push for more ambitious national pledges, beyond what was agreed in Paris.
The Biden Plan also proposes climate proposals that sound quite familiar to what we have been hearing here in Europe. It proposes the creation of an enforcement mechanism to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 and alludes to an intermediary 2025 target to coincide with the end of Joe Biden’s first term. Interestingly, the plan also stresses that the Biden Administration “will impose carbon adjustment fees or quotas on carbon-intensive goods from countries that are failing to meet their climate and environmental obligations”, which looks and sounds similar to the Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism that the European Union will be presenting in 2021. Another similarity that could emerge from a Biden Presidency surrounds talk of a climate and energy ‘Czar’ who would elevate and coordinate climate issues across all federal agencies, a role that sounds very similar to the European Commission Executive Vice President Frans Timmermans, the current favorite for the role looks to be former Secretary of State John Kerry.
Beyond this, the Biden Plan also points to another interesting point of agreement, beyond climate targets and ambition, green financing. The Plan focuses primarily on banning the financing of dirty energy such as funding for coal-fired power plants. Indeed, sustainable finance is an area highlighted by Pascal Canfin, Chair of the European Parliament’s Environment Committee, and sees plenty of scope for the United States and the European Union setting global standards in this area by agreeing to a “Transatlantic financial Green Deal”.
Much of this will come as music to the ears of the European Union, although the Biden Plan looks to promote an ‘America First’ role, less in the sense of the economic nationalism of President Trump, but more in the sense of the United States as a global climate leader on the back of these renewed climate ambitions.
The big questions that the European Union will therefore need to answer prior to a Biden Presidency are the following: What will become of the ‘European sovereignty’ that has been accelerated during the Trump Presidency? Having tried to step up as the global leader in the fight against climate change, will the European Union be content to take somewhat of a backseat to the United States, or will it seek to rebuild the transatlantic alliance, with the EU and US as equal partners in climate action? As European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told EU ambassadors today, the EU should “offer a positive new agenda with the United States. We should provide joint leadership and address today’s global challenges. Not be nostalgic for the world of yesterday.”
Ryan Hunter is the in-house US politics expert at LP Brussels. For more analysis on the US election and what it means for the US-EU climate partnership, check out our live episode of the LP Brussels US Presidential Election show on Thursday, November 12th at 15:00 CET on Youtube.