Europe Inside Out

Where the Transatlantic Response to Climate Change Falls Short

Episode Summary

Olivia Lazard and Noah Gordon discuss transatlantic efforts to navigate the geopolitics of climate, the energy transition’s blind spots, and what to look forward to at COP27.

Episode Notes

Russia’s war on Ukraine has spotlighted the interconnectedness of foreign and security policy, energy, and the environment. A deeper appreciation of the geopolitics of climate will shape not only EU-U.S. relations–as reflected in the recently unveiled Inflation Reduction Act in the United States and the Critical Materials Act in the EU–but also global affairs and events, including COP27.

Olivia Lazard, a fellow at Carnegie Europe, is joined by Noah Gordon, a fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, to discuss the transatlantic approach to climate change, current blind spots in the race to net-zero, as well as their visions for the future. 

Olivia Lazard (June 30, 2022), The Blind Spots of the Green Energy Transition. TED.

Olivia Lazard and Richard Youngs (July 12, 2021), The EU and Climate Security: Toward Ecological Diplomacy. Carnegie Europe.

Noah Gordon (July 28, 2022), Carbon Pricing Isn’t Enough to Mitigate Climate Change. Foreign Policy.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, (April 17, 2019). A Message From the Future with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. The Intercept.

Dr. Paul Griffin, (July 2017). The Carbon Majors Database: CDP Carbon Majors Report 2017. CDP.

Will MacAskill (August 2022). What We Owe the Future. Basic Books.

Helena Horton (July 28, 2022). Climate breakdown made UK heatwave 10 times more likely, study finds. The Guardian.

Adam Tooze, (July 24, 2022). Chartbook #130 Defining Polycrisis – From Crisis Pictures to the Crisis Matrix.

Arianna Skibell, (September 23, 2022). Malpass Joins ‘I’m Not a Scientist’ Hall of Fame. Politico.

George Monbiot (August 2022). Regenesis: Feeding the World without Devouring the Planet. Penguin Books.

World Weather Attribution, (July 28, 2022). Without human-caused climate change temperatures of 40°C in the UK would have been extremely unlikely.

Episode Transcription

[00:00:00.130] - Olivia Lazard

As Russian troops began their invasion of Ukraine in early 2022, gas pipelines and food shipments morphed into geopolitical instruments. Energy prices skyrocketed and wheat exports trickled to a halt. The brutal act of war has unceremoniously exposed the intricate relations between foreign and security policies, energy, and the environment. The European Union and the United States, two crucial players in the international system, must factor the interconnectedness into their policymaking. How are Europe and the United States dealing with rising energy costs? What have been our biggest climate transition blind spots? And what needs to be at the forefront of our thinking as we tackle climate change, the biggest crisis of all?
[00:00:55.910] - Olivia Lazard

Welcome to Europe Inside Out, a monthly podcast from Carnegie Europe about the continent's greatest foreign policy challenges.

[00:01:03.480] - Olivia Lazard

My name is Olivia Lazard, and I'm a fellow at Carnegie Europe. 

[00:01:07.030] - Olivia Lazard

This episode of Europe Inside Out is about climate change and geopolitics. And I'm joined by Noah Gordon, a fellow in the Europe program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington DC. A former adviser at the Berlin based climate think tank Adelphi, where he led a flagship project on transatlantic climate cooperation, he now manages a climate geopolitics project in the United States.

[00:01:27.590] - Olivia Lazard

Noah, welcome!

[00:01:31] - Noah Gordon

Thanks, Olivia. Great to be here.

[00:01:37.170] - Olivia Lazard

The last few months have seen their fair share of climate disruptions. From flooding in the United States, Puerto Rico, and Pakistan, to heat waves in Europe and Africa, and typhoons in South Korea and Japan. All of this is happening against the backdrop of Russia's war in Ukraine, which has led to food shortages and rising energy costs. Noah, can you speak as to how you see these events through a climate lens? Is the conversation divided or are people viewing these events as connected, do you think?

[00:02:03] - Noah Gordon

I think people are seeing these events, these crises as connected. Just look at the phrasing being used. You have mainstream politicians talking about the climate crisis. Mainstream media outlets speak of energy and climate crises, of debt and climate crises, or climate related refugees or conflicts. And they are also now more likely to mention climate change when talking about a flood or a new gas pipeline. So I think it's clear that climate is increasingly understood as a major element of the various crises facing the global system. Whether you call that a polycrisis, as Adam Tooze does, an omnishambles, as Armando Ianucci does, or most crudely, just as a shit show. You know, I think back to the other day, the backlash to what World Bank President David Malpass said. A journalist asked him whether he acknowledged the reality of anthropogenic climate change and he refused to answer, making the old excuse that he was, quote: "Not a scientist." And people were really shocked and called for him to resign. That sort of prevarication or old school climate denial is really dead. It's a lot more common today to have a sort of nihilistic climate doomism. There's the idea that we can't fix it and we should just enjoy what we have. Or others make appeals to a sort of hard nose realism, saying of course, burning fossil fuels, exacerbates heat waves... We have to be realistic about how fast we can transition... Have to think about the economy.

But what's common to both perspectives is an understanding that climate change is an important driver of global problems. And as a last thing, I think attribution science has been really helpful here. In recent years, scientists have vastly improved their ability to quantify the extent to which climate change made an event more likely or more severe. For example, one recent study by Friederike Otto and her team at World Weather Attribution found that the European heat wave this July was two to four degrees hotter because of climate change. And this new scholarship has made a difference to how we understand these events. So, yeah, the state of the discourse encourages me about governments' ability to execute rapid policy change. 

[00:03:52] - Olivia Lazard

Well, I partly agree with you about the fact that it's becoming clearer and clearer just even by the simple fact that everything is happening in such a concentrated sequence, that people are making a lot more links between geopolitics, energy crisis, climate crisis. I'm still, however, generally concerned that we're not seeing a larger picture. If you look back at what the IPCC report was saying back, you know, in the end of 2021 and early 2022. We're seeing some really alarming signals coming our way. One of the latest reports was saying essentially that we may reach 1.5 as early as 2025. We may only peak there and potentially go down. The problem is essentially that this would happen only if we were on the best possible scenario and this is not the scenario upon which we're embarking, right? And so, what we're likely to see is a lot more climate disruption coming our way, essentially exacerbating all geopolitical tensions, which is playing on a number of different things.

One is the fact that in the midst of all of this chaos at the moment, the continuation in the war in Ukraine, the climate disruptions, we're also having a conversation about loss and damage in preparation for COP27. And we're seeing just how big the rift is between the US, Europe and countries that are right now affected by climate disruptions, inflationary pressures, energy prices, etcetera, etcetera. And the dialogue is just not there. There is actually a lot more radicalization and polarization in that space rather than cooperation. So this is concerning. As much as I agree with you to a certain extent, I'm encouraged by the fact that we're seeing more and more links being made in Europe, in the US, in countries that are now more seized through public opinion about the climate crisis. What we're seeing, however, is that particularly for an actor like Russia, we're not seeing that type of conscience. How war, how disruptions are essentially playing against any type of climate action. When you see what just happened with the potential sabotage of Nord Stream One and Nord Stream Two, and the massive release of gas, which is obviously a massive release of methane, this is an unprecedented climate catastrophe of direct malicious intent. So all of these different things tell me that we're still not quite seized with the right level of conscience collectively, neither in the public opinion nor at policy level, and certainly not in different sort of geopolitical spheres to really tackle the problem head on.

But moving on from the effects of climate change in recent months, I also want us to focus on what's been happening at policy levels. Because there's been actually lots of movements on both sides of the Atlantic, which is rather encouraging. Noah, there's been a dramatic turn of events in the US with the passing of the Inflation Reduction Act known as the IRA, right? It's largely a compromise compared to what President Biden originally intended to do, but still it's rather a relief that the IRA passed before midterm elections.

[00:06:56] - Noah Gordon

I think "relief" is certainly the right word. I'm so happy to be finally able to talk about a US climate bill. This somewhat misleadingly named piece of legislation is the first major climate bill that US Congress has ever passed. I mean, sure, there were some modest clean energy tax credits in the mid 2000s. And US almost passed an Emission Trading System Bill in 2009. But most climate action in the US so far - where greenhouse gas emissions are only down 17% from their 2005 peak - has been driven by federal regulations on things like car fuel efficiency or state level policy and power plants switching from coal to gas, for mostly economic reasons. But now, as you say, we have this big economy wide bill that aims to clean up the American energy system. And it will spend around 400 billion over ten years on energy and climate initiatives, possibly more, because most of the tax credits are uncapped. And thanks to the legislation, most modelers now expect US emissions to fall by 40% from their 2005 peak by 2030.

So, reason to celebrate. We should probably talk about what's actually in the bill. The biggest pillar of it is the US government making clean energy cheaper with loans, grants, and above all, tax credits for clean energy generation. There's a $160 billion worth of those over ten years. Basically, if you generate low carbon energy: wind, solar, geothermal, nuclear... The government will pay you. And there's also a lot of funding for low carbon manufacturing, supporting stuff like clean steel, carbon capture, energy efficiency, making sure critical minerals—one of your main topics, I know—can be mined and processed in America. So: industrial policy is back. Another important element are the consumer-facing incentives for people who adopt low carbon technologies. Are you buying an electric car? The government will pay you up to $7,500. Are you installing a heat pump or putting solar panels on the roof? The government will pay you. And I think these initiatives could really change the political economy of the transition in America as more people get invested in these green technologies and demand more government support for them in the future. 

It's nice to see some positive climate feedback loops and tipping points for once. Rather than icebergs melting and rainforests dying back. And finally, there's some less visible provisions that haven't grabbed the headlines but could make a big difference—especially by mobilizing more private investment. There's a new green bank at the US Environmental Protection Agency, and the Department of Energy is getting an additional $250 billion in loan guarantee authority, which you can use to support projects like repurposing gas pipelines to carry hydrogen, or converting coal plants to nuclear. I guess it should be said, Olivia, this remains a very American climate bill. It's all about building more of everything. "All carrots and no sticks," in other words. You know, the initial plan was to charge fees to electricity producers who refused to stop burning fossil fuels. But that's gone. There are no more fees. And most of the transport provisions are about electric cars. There's no carbon pricing, and there's little attention paid to public transport. You were talking about how this will affect how the US is perceived in the world...

I don't think this makes the US a climate leader. We're talking about a country that is the world's largest oil and gas producer—per capita emissions much higher than Europe or China. A lot more work to do to reach the Paris pledge of cutting emissions 50% by 2030. We're at the stage of the energy transition where we need transformative changes to our physical environment, not just swapping gas for coal at distant power plants. And it really remains hard to imagine how that's going to work in the US or Europe. I was back in my old neighborhood in Berlin Kreuzberg the other day, walked past my old apartment and noticed that the construction of the building next door had made no progress in six months. And as a climate person, I just started thinking, like: if we want to decarbonize the city, we need workers in every building in the neighborhood installing solar panels and heat pumps, and who's going to train them?

Who will persuade residents and landlords? Who is going to get rid of the historical preservation rules, that "Denkmalschutz". But anyway, returning to optimism, even if the US is not necessarily a climate leader, it's no longer a climate laggard. The bill will make clean energy cheaper all over the world, just as happened in the 2000s and 2010s when Germany spent public money to make renewables profitable. China jumped on the opportunity, capitalized, built up the solar industry. And the bill will make the US sound less hypocritical at conferences, when climate envoy John Kerry flies around the world and asks poor countries to stop burning natural gas, he can at least argue that the US is making a real effort at home.

[00:11:02] - Olivia Lazard

On the whole, I agree with you definitely. I think I see this, particular act. And this IRA bill as being a catalyst, essentially, for the entry of the US into a race towards decarbonization. I see it. Most likely as an industrial act, which is, for that matter, I think, not a bad thing at all. About the hypocrisy, I'm not quite sure... I'm really really concerned in. the lead up towards COP27. That indeed there is going to be a really strong fracture between the G-77 plus China and then the US and the EU. Because trying to essentially, you know, tell other countries—particularly in African context—not to go towards gas as a transition fuel. Whilst at the same time essentially pumping up gas and still stacking up on fossils in the US and in Europe. It's still going to be seen as a major rift. However. The part where I'm going to turn to the optimism side, which is unlike me most of the time when it comes to climate issues, is indeed the fact that for the very first time in history, not only do we have the US entering the industrial race. It is the fact that the US is moving towards this—whilst at the same time there is indeed something happening quite similarly in the EU—which creates essentially a sort of common ecosystem with a direction, right? So during her State of the Union address, President von der Leyen started talking about the need for a Critical Materials Act in the European Union. This is the extension of a number of different efforts that the EU has been trying to build over the last few years with the EU Raw Material Alliance, the Battery Alliance, and then trying to work on industrial and clean tech ecosystems. And this particular act, the Critical Materials Act, comes on the back of obviously a number of different packages within the Green Deal, which is essentially the climate flagship within the EU. And we're seeing essentially an acceleration and a new conscience in Europe along with the US that well, for that matter, climate policy is not just about pledges, it's also about the things that you were talking about which are extremely important: how to insulate homes, how to reform essentially like the mobility systems in Europe or in the US, or the construction systems. But really, actually climate policy is about the nuts and bolts of extraction and building a new industrial type of pipeline which has a huge material footprint. But if we do want to decarbonize, this is a necessary step to take. So, for the very first time, we see essentially a sense of direction within the transatlantic space. What we would actually need would be a policy which is a collective type of industrial effort. So we really need to sort, you know, of start thinking about industrial policy as something where competitiveness is actually not on a national basis, but it needs to be something which is codesigned, something which is shared in terms of benefits, in terms of tech transfers, in terms of industrial contributions to climate adaptation, climate mitigation, not just in Europe and the US.

That would be already one good thing, but also trying to make sure that the transatlantic relationship more largely also the OECD space really moved towards a vision of industrial decarbonization policy, which includes Africa, Latin America and other zones in the world to try and, you know, sort of close down on energy gaps, to try and make sure that the industrial space also contributes to climate adaptation. And these are things that we're not quite seeing at the moment. It's one thing to say we want to be climate leaders. It's another thing to actually implement the climate leadership. And it's yet another thing to make sure that this climate leadership creates dividends collectively at an international level.

[00:14:58] - Noah Gordon

I think that's well said about the lack of coordination. I mean, remember the baseline was zero federal climate policy in the USA. So even a bill that basically ignores the rest of the world, and especially the G-77 that you mentioned is at least progress.


[00:15:14] - Olivia Lazard

I'd like to pick up where we left off, about the steps the United States and the EU have taken to address the energy crisis and the climate crisis together. But approach it from a different angle, and that is, what have we been missing that has led us down this road. For a really long time, scientists and indigenous populations have been warning about the impending and pervasive effects of the degradation of our ecosphere would bring. The last few years have been proving them right. Climate disruptions are affecting virtually every aspect of social and life fabrics on Earth and climate touches, migration, democracy, security, technology, economics: the list goes on, and on, and on. I still sense a flavor of business as usual around in a mindset of management that says we'll be able to rein things in. So what's your sense, Noah? I'm also keen to hear about your ongoing research about imagined futures regarding security. What can we learn from how people imagine the future and how it can influence current levels of action?

[00:16:10] - Noah Gordon

Yeah, positive visions of the future are really important. Actually, your question makes me think of this video that Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez narrated for the Intercept a few years ago, back when the Democratic Party was still talking about a comprehensive green New Deal. So in this video, it's 2040 or 2050, and the protagonist is sitting on a bullet train from New York to DC talking about how we basically saved the world. And not in abstract terms, about holding emissions to 1.5 degrees. But concretely. She talks about her friend Ileana, whose first job out of college is working with a civilian climate corps, restoring wetlands to reduce carbon and prevent floods. And this Ileana character works alongside former oil workers who got retrained instead of becoming unemployed. And Ileana eventually becomes a childcare worker. In an economy willing to allow people to slow down. It is at least a growth agnostic economy. And even though there are still climate disasters, like Miami being half underwater, this is a positive, concrete future. Anyway, but what's important about the AOC video is just that it's a concrete vision of the future, and we probably need more of those. You mentioned what we're doing in our current Carnegie project with what we call science fiction scenarios. And we ask people to imagine that it's the year 2040, and they're looking back at how the climate crisis and responses to it have changed the world, over the past 15 years. And people come up with all sorts of interesting futures. They've imagined NATO shifting its focus from keeping invading armies out to keeping "would be" climate migrants in. They've imagined conflict in the Horn of Africa with Egypt bombing the GERD (Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam) Dam in Ethiopia. They've imagined methane emissions setting off dangerous feedback loops. And a Brazilian dictator threatening to bring down the Amazon and the sanctions were lifted. And this is obviously quite speculative, but it's really valuable to get foreign policy thinkers to try their hand at a short piece of fiction. It gets people to articulate their hypotheses in a more provocative manner. And for another thing, we've noticed that even when people might be optimists in the abstract, when participants are forced to get specific and visualize a world on the way to two and a half degrees, it's usually quite a grim one. So some bad news there. I don't know what you think about these imagined futures, Olivia, or the pathway we're on.

[00:18:10] - Olivia Lazard

I still, I mean... I completely agree with you that imagining positive futures is incredibly important. Any time that I teach or any time that I intervene on issues of ecosphere, degradation, the race to critical materials, the first question that I get is usually if I have hope - particularly coming from the younger generation. And hope is incredibly important. I also do believe that we need to recognize and be very honest with ourselves that we're headed towards difficulty. So the binary notion, essentially, of hope versus despair is also quite unhelpful. In that conversation. I think that we need to tap into a lot more emotional registry that we do have as human beings, and that we need to tap into new forms of courage, of grit, of imagination. And currently, have sort of trouble getting past in the current conversation, is that we still keep on imagining the world as it has been functioning over the last decade, which is normal to a certain extent, but it relates back to one of the specific blind spots. And the very first blind spot, in my opinion - that I've always identified - is essentially the linear thinking. So, when we talk about climate action, we talk about decarbonization. And we do that because we have a CO2 problem. But a CO2 problem is connected to a much larger issue which has to do with changes in the ecosphere and anthropogenic drivers. And we've been starting to have a much larger conversation. We really need to recognize essentially that if we keep on using essentially Paris systems to literally fuel an economy, which is essentially constantly encroaching on ecosystems then we're actually going to go into a solution that is going to create a massive amount of problems and which is going to create feedback loops with CO2 emissions and other greenhouse gas emissions. I'll give just an example: you know, I've been more and more involved in blue economy conversations in the last few months and when I came to this conversation, I was really excited about trying to see how new economic models could essentially, invest, and contribute to the regeneration of oceans, which are key allies in fighting the climate crisis, right? Because they store a lot of carbon dioxide and because they're just, you know, so essential to human life and other forms of life. But what I've been hearing in these conversations is essentially how we can push industrial frontiers into the seas and into the oceans. And how we can create new waves of economic growth out of this. What I notice is essentially that there is starting to be a sort of, a sort of mantra, and nearly a dogma about how green growth needs to land us into a decarbonized space. And it does. It's true. We do need to decarbonize. But we need to ask better questions about what decarbonization is used for. Whether or not it essentially propels sort of longstanding economic players in the OECD space further into economic expansion, potentially at the expense of countries that are struggling. Or if we can indeed sort of use decarbonization as a way to redistribute resources globally.

And the problem is indeed that this is complicated at the moment when the green transition is effectively and intently being used and instrumentalized as a way to propel new geopolitical paradynamics - very aggressive ones, very dangerous ones. And this is.  The part of the puzzle which is extremely difficult to reconcile. Because when you see indeed China and the US sort of, you know, pushing in terms of development of new technologies, development of new power systems and energy systems, they are still going to take us closer to planetary boundaries. So all of these different problems, these blind spots, trying to sort, you know like, aim for one solution in terms of linear thinking, which may create actually more systemic problems and insecurity as a result, and underdevelopment and shocks. Well, this is what... You know,  the type of newest conversation that I'd like to see more and more and that we can actually, you know, that's what I argue in the Ted Talk that I gave. As long as we ask the right questions, even though they're complex, we're likely headed towards indeed more positive scenarios. And that's the moment when I find hope.

[00:22:31] - Noah Gordon

I just wanted to pick up on what you said about a lot of damage being baked in because suffering is coming no matter what we do from this point. And I think we're headed for a tricky period of climate politics because, I mean, as you know, global warming or climate change doesn't begin to stop until greenhouse gas emissions reach net zero. On a two degrees pathway, that's in about 2100. And this is a marathon to a degree that I'm not sure people are prepared for. There could be whole periods where rich countries have reduced emissions to nearly zero and warming is still getting worse. And how we deal with that and avoid the doomism we spoke of earlier. So certainly some road bumps to come.

[00:23:04] - Olivia Lazard

Yeah, for sure. I find a lot more comfort in dealing with the problems heads on and dealing with complexity rather than trying to avoid it for the sake of, well, business as usual economic mantras and just trying to keep up with what we've been developing. But that delves into a much larger conversation about human philosophies regarding progress, regarding the place of technology within society and how we can invent indeed, completely different ways of living.

[00:] - Noah Gordon

For sure.

[00:23:33] - Olivia Lazard

So if we take this standpoint where essentially we have some more digging to do and if we want to look into a positive direction, are there any countries or actors that you think have made a real difference, so far? Whose voices do you think that we should be really listening to at this point?

[00:23:49] - Noah Gordon

Which voices to listen to? That's a tough one.

[00:] - Noah Gordon

I mean, we should listen to young people, like Greta Thunberg, whose youth lets you see more clearly what to most of us is just the water we swim in. And we should probably listen to effective altruists like Will MacAskill at Oxford, who I guess intends to represent future still unborn generations. And then also to old people like James Hansen, the climate scientist who first put climate change on the US political agenda in 1988 to little effect and has a lot of experience to share. And then finally to vulnerable people who are not household names, are often black and brown and indigenous, and suffer the most from our addiction to fossil fuels. I can also highlight some countries, although that's tricky as well. There are countries leading the green transition, like Norway, where 80% of the new cars sold are electric. Although of course they fund their transition by selling oil to the world. Or I could highlight Costa Rica or Iceland, who both get 90% of their electricity from renewables. Then again, if you're a small country with plentiful hydropower and geothermal resources, that's relatively easy.

And then even giant countries like China are full of contradictions. China leads the world when it comes to rolling out green technologies, but it also burns unholy amounts of coal. So, just, the point of this answer, where I jump around a lot, is to show the energy transition is very difficult and it's easy to point fingers. I see that stat going around that claims a 100 companies are responsible for 70% of carbon emissions since 1988. Are they? I mean, if Shell and Exxon didn't exist, would we all not have just bought petrol from different companies and kept driving to work or school? You can blame the drug dealers for everything. Or look at the system that created them. So this is all to say that climate crisis and the ecological breakdown is a wicked problem and no one is perfect. I'm curious if you have any voices to listen to.

[00:25:26] - Olivia Lazard

Well, the voices that recognize essentially that we're in the age of wicked solutions, right? Anything that we're doing at this point is essentially trying to make sure that we land back with planetary boundaries. But there is one country that has caught my attention in the recent past, which is Panama. There is one topic that we haven't touched upon before, which is ecological regeneration. And Panama has been essentially sort of using environmental regeneration to try and keep its infrastructure, particularly around the canal, going. Because the erosion was actually creating a lot of issues, in terms of the passage of boats and along with the trade route. And by using regeneration, they've essentially restored not just nature around this area, but actually maintained a positive and mutually reinforcing relationship between trade and ecological areas. So that's one which I find really really interesting in that way. 


[00:26:19] - Olivia Lazard

So looking forward to the remaining months of 2022 and looking beyond to 2023, there's a lot on the climate agenda which is both reassuring and also, considering what's happening, a bit tense. But they include the publication of the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report on climate Change in October and obviously the very important UN Climate Change conference or COP27 in November. So, Noah, what's your perspective? What are the low hanging fruits in terms of transatlantic cooperation ahead of these events?

[00:26:47] - Noah Gordon

Two fruits come to mind: one bilateral EU-US and one related to the rich world's interactions with the developing world. First, I'd say avoiding trade disputes over green industrial policy. The US has long been skeptical of the EU's plan to tax the carbon embedded in imports of goods like steel and cement: the Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism. And for its part the EU objects to the Buy America provisions in the Inflation Reduction Act which do violate global trade rules by discriminating against foreign products. To get the full tax credit on an electric vehicle, that vehicle has to be assembled in North America and has to run on a battery containing North American minerals. So that's problematic. But we cannot let disagreements over green subsidies between two allies derail the already delayed energy transition. To adapt the Frederic Jameson quote about the end of capitalism, it's currently easier to imagine the end of the world than a major green revision of WTO rules. So after waiting so long for the US to finally act, and then watching the US use this sort of national security American jobs framing to just barely get a climate bill passed, I think the EU needs to weigh competing interests when challenging America first style climate provisions on trade grounds.

The second low hanging fruit is doing more of these just energy transition partnerships. The US, EU, France, Germany and Britain teamed up to do one of these in South Africa. Basically, these rich countries are mobilizing quote unquote, $8 billion to help South Africa phase out its coal fired power stations, and similar deals are in the works to speed up the coal phase out in India, Indonesia, Senegal and Vietnam. These programs are just much easier politically than the loss and damage funding that simply isn't coming, as you said. The US is most open about the fact that it won't pay what are essentially unlimited climate reparations. John Kerry was just ranting about this the other day at a New York Times climate conference, but European governments aren't racing to get the checkbook out either. The $13 million that Denmark pledged is just a drop in the bucket.

[00:28:35] - Olivia Lazard

Yeah, definitely. The loss and damage question is definitely something that I'm concerned about. But I'd add a couple of ones, in terms of low hanging fruits. They're not so easy, because at this point, we're talking about very complex low hanging fruits. But still, they are the ones that need to be seized. One is around "adaptation". I think that COP27 will definitely prove that "adaptation" is now the name of the game. It doesn't mean that we shouldn't focus on mitigation anymore because the best form of climate disruption prevention remains mitigation. But at the end of the day, the urgency is so incredibly obvious when you see what's been happening in Pakistan or in... Florida as well. We understand essentially that there needs to be a lot more going into "adaptation". And it's not just a matter of finance for that matter. Because I'm seeing and hearing a lot of countries say: "Well, you know, even if we were to get enough money, we wouldn't be completely sure what to invest into". Because at the end of the day, we don't exactly know what adaptation looks like in a climate disrupted world. And we certainly don't know what steps of adaptation are necessary, depending on the level of warming. It will differ if it's 1.5, 1.8, 2.4. So, I think that the UK had done a really good job last year of investing into new forms of research for adaptation, and these efforts really need to be enhanced. There is a second one... eh... which is a bit less directly collective and which I think really goes back to the heart of the transatlantic relationship. And I would argue that it should go in the sense of geo economic- and ecological intelligence. The reason why I'm saying this is because my research is proving that indeed in countries that are very well endowed in the critical minerals that we need in order to decarbonize and build electrified systems, there is a huge competition happening. A competition in which China and Russia and a number of other actors have moved in very aggressively and they have used essentially fragility, corruption, predation, and in some cases violence to their own advantage to gain access to certain assets. Either prospective mine sites or active ones. So this creates essentially this geopolitical imbalance. And I think that unfortunately, the US and Europe didn't factor this in into how they understood the climate transition playing out.

So, this is something that we need to address because I think that intelligence services should now be a lot more seized around the ecological urgency and develop new types of methodologies and analytical frameworks. And, well, networked intelligence in order to really sort of understand what the outcomes of this particular competition is going to be and how to try and balance it out. So there's a lot to do. And I think that if transatlantic relationship manages to deliver on certain key aspects, both in terms of substance but also in terms of diplomacy, there is a potential to try and avert a very abrasive COP27. But maybe we should touch upon the aspects which are not quite the easiest areas for cooperation. What do you think will be a major hurdle or maybe also just a priority that we haven't mentioned so far.

[00:31:50] - Noah Gordon

To me, a major hurdle is agricultural and land use emissions. We've talked a lot about ditching fossil fuels, and it's true that those are the main drivers of climate change. But about 20% of global emissions come from agriculture and land use. You've got cows belching methane, humans cutting down rainforests to grow soybeans to feed to the cows, nitrous oxide emissions from fertilizers. This is a planet size sector we've barely talked about. A lot of this is linked to meat consumption. To me, the killer stat is this: 75% of arable land is used either as grazing lands for livestock or to grow food for livestock. And when it comes to solutions in both the US and Europe, we're much further behind on agriculture, than cutting energy emissions. There's also the potential for a really intense culture war around this. If you think it's hard to pass a serious carbon tax, wait until you try to put a tax on beef. What solutions might work? I mean, yeah, new farming practices and behavioral change are important, but given our short time frame and how many people in the developing world are buying more meat as they can afford to do so, I think technology will have to do a lot of the work and here I'm thinking about things like lab grown meat, cultured meat. We've got cultured chicken being sold in Singapore. There's the fake meat, like Beyond Burgers. And then coming around the corner we've got insect proteins or even the microbial proteins that George Monbiot talks about in his latest book, Regenesis. Basically, you can take bacteria that can feed on hydrogen extracted from water and make them into a protein heavy pancake. So, I would hope that agricultural emissions are a bigger focus of the next version of the Inflation Reduction Act or the EU Green Deal. 

[00:33:18] - Olivia Lazard

I completely agree with you that this is also a major blind spot for that matter, including at COPs, right? Even in last year's communication about methane, agriculture didn't feature at all.

[00:33:26] - Noah Gordon

I didn't even mention the mass extinction. I mean, I just talked about emissions. But again, yeah, blind spots.

[00:33:31] - Olivia Lazard

Yeah, no... Absolutely. I think that in Europe there is definitely a plan within the next set of submission regarding NDCs to sort of look at food systems. The part that worries me is two things. When you look at the original version of the Green Deal, you had the Farm to Fork strategy, which was about really transforming food systems within Europe. But when you looked at the Multiannual Financial Framework, which is essentially the seven year-long budget for how the European Union functions, you didn't actually see any type of change. So this represents essentially a very strong path dependency represented in the Common Agricultural Policy, and we need to go towards a fundamental rethink of how food systems function. I'm actually really worried that we're very far away from that. Even when you hear how President Macron reacted to the weaponization of weed in the war on Ukraine, the immediate reaction was to say: "Well, we need to sort of pump up wheat production, including if it goes towards intensive agricultural systems." This won't work. It's one of the drivers of the climate crisis. So it's actually responding, once again, linear thinking: responding with a solution that is actually likely to increase and enhance the problem.

[00:34:50] - Noah Gordon

We always increase supply before we do anything else.

[00:34:53] - Olivia Lazard

Yeah, no, absolutely. And with the wrong inputs and entrance, right? We need to move towards regenerative agriculture. And for that matter, when you move towards that kind of system, which is essentially about trying to recreate social fabrics around food, around what we call terroir, which is the specificities of soils in each and every region, then cattle has a place. It's not as if we need to sort of stop eating meat. If some people decide to, you know, want to keep on eating meat, it's fine. But it's not fine in the current industrial and globalized economic system. Because this has too much of an impact in terms of land conversion. If we start restoring land, then we're going to have a different outlook on how we can actually use cattle and nurture cattle and animals within very productive ecosystems that are going to help us to store not just carbon dioxide within soils, but also store back water within soils. 

[00:35:44] - Noah Gordon

Actually, Olivia, I'm curious to hear more about regenerative agriculture and maybe some of the other research you've been doing around ecology more broadly.

[00:35:51] - Olivia Lazard

Well, regenerative agriculture and more generally regeneration, is essentially about trying to create as many water retention landscapes as possible. And to try and restore essentially the ecological interdependencies that exist between biodiversity systems, soil systems, and water systems at very local levels, but also at global levels. It's one of the good news stories that I like to sort of go into. Because there are actions that we can take as long as we look at things systemically and as long as we start understanding the planet a lot more. And so, by changing food systems and then by also identifying some key areas across the globe, key ecosystems that we can regenerate at scale, then we can actually try to counter some of the effects and disruptions of, well, that stem essentially from excess stock of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. And we can work with biodiversity. We can regenerate and bring back water, which is incredibly important to disperse and disseminate as a message at the moment. Because people believe that once water is gone, it's gone forever. But I've seen it with my own eyes. Once you start working on regenerative techniques, then you can bring back water and you can bring back soil productivity. But it takes looking at productivity differently. And it takes looking also at shifting from international security to planetary security. And so that's why we've been doing a lot of work at Carnegie Europe on this notion of ecological diplomacy. Which is essentially identifying all of these blind spots that we've been talking about, identifying the tensions that exist between decarbonization pathways and regeneration pathways. And then trying to make sure that we find our path not by ignoring complex problems, but by going right into them. Because by asking the right questions, this is the path that will guide us towards doing decarbonization not only fast - and much faster than what we're doing -, but also doing it well. 


And we all have a stake in making sure that we have a safe planet to live on. A safe operating space within planetary boundaries. On these good words, which, you know, is.. a very tall order for the rest of the evening, or of the day, depending on where you are listening from. But I'd like to thank you, Noah, for joining us, again, and I look forward to the next time that we can actually see each other in person and have this conversation face to face.

[00:38:10] - Noah Gordon

Yeah, thanks for having me, Olivia. I enjoyed our conversation.


[00:38:14] - Olivia Lazard

For those interested in learning more about climate action, ecological transitions and climate geopolitics, I encourage you to follow Noah Gordon on Twitter @Noah_Gordon. That's spelling. And you can find me at @OliviaLazard. It's spelling. Thank you so much for listening to Europe Inside Out, a podcast by Carnegie Europe. Please join us again next month, when Richard Youngs and Rachel Kleinfeld will be speaking about democracy. Let us know what you think of the show by reaching out to us on Twitter @Carnegie_Europe, or by email at If you like the show, leave us a rating and subscribe wherever you get your podcast. This episode of Europe Inside Out was produced with support from the US Mission to the EU. Our producer is Midori Tanaka. Our editor is Alexander Damiano Ricci, of Bulle Media. Sound engineering and original music by Jeremy Bocquet.