Transatlantic Climate Diplomacy: Past Efforts and Future Challenges

On May 31st, the AICGS hosted a seminar on transatlantic climate diplomacy, analyzing past efforts and exploring future challenges. Dr. Katja Biedenkopf, Visiting Fellow and DAAD/AICGS Research Fellow from February through July 2016, presented a comparative analysis of European and United States diplomacy in the run-up to the adoption of the Paris Agreement. This international climate deal was adopted on December 12, 2015 after long and challenging negotiations in which both the European Union and the United States played a key role. The presentation was followed by a discussion about the political implications of the Paris Agreement amongst the roughly thirty participants.

December 12, 2015 marked a tremendous success in climate diplomacy: 195 countries agreed on an international climate deal, the Paris Agreement. This deal was the result of a long negotiation process in which many countries invested significant diplomatic efforts to persuade others of the importance of global climate action. Germany, the European Union, and the United States were and remain among the most active participants in international climate negotiations. In their own way and making good use of their specific structural properties, both the United States and the EU made major contributions to the process of reaching an agreement and bringing almost all countries globally on board.

In the absence of a consciously designed and explicit transatlantic strategy, the U.S. and the EU individual, bilateral, and multilateral coalition-building efforts complemented each other and could be characterized as an implicit division of labor: The United States did the heavy lifting to convince China and some other major emerging economies to make climate change mitigation commitments of their own and to agree to an inclusive agreement without a clear-cut bifurcation between developing and developed countries. The EU invested major efforts in building coalitions with developing countries and states that are most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. These coalitions called for the international climate agreement to set ambitious goals and also made an important contribution to breaking the categorical divide between developing and developed countries. Of course, the United States also engaged with developing and most vulnerable countries, and the EU also cooperated with China. Yet, when assessing their major contributions to accelerating and facilitating the process culminating in the Paris Agreement, the United States-China interaction and the EU’s engagement in the so-called High Ambition Coalition with least developed and most vulnerable countries stand out.

The adoption of the Paris Agreement by no means puts an end to international climate negotiations and diplomacy. The agreement’s provisions need to be defined and implementation measures need to be adopted. It also is important to ensure that countries adopt the climate policies to which they have committed in 2015. All these challenges require continued diplomatic efforts by the EU, the U.S., and many other actors. For this reason, one of the main challenges ahead is keeping the broad set of public and private actors involved, providing sufficient assistance to those who need it and keeping up the political momentum to drive the process forward. Transatlantic cooperation seems more relevant than ever in addressing these challenges. Domestic uncertainties that stem from the upcoming U.S. presidential elections and the referendum in favor of the United Kingdom leaving the European Union were subject to the vibrant seminar discussion.

Dr. Katja Biedenkopf is a Visiting Fellow and DAAD/AICGS Research Fellow from February through July 2016. She is Assistant Professor at the University of Leuven, Belgium. Her research centers on climate and environmental policy. Dr. Biedenkopf has conducted research on the external effects of European Union environmental policy on the United States, China, and South Korea, in particular in the areas of electronic waste, chemicals, and climate policy. She also has worked on questions regarding global environmental governance, the diffusion of greenhouse gas emissions trading, and policy entrepreneurship. Previously, Dr. Biedenkopf worked as an Assistant Professor at the University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands; as a postdoctoral fellow at the Free University of Berlin, Germany; and as a doctoral research fellow at the Vrije Universiteit Brussels, Belgium. Prior to her academic career, Dr. Biedenkopf worked as EU Affairs Manager at the American Electronics Association, a Brussels-based trade association.

May 31, 2016