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US, EU Elections Key to Climate Momentum

The stakes are high. If he wins, former President Donald Trump, the Republican nominee, has pledged to again withdraw from the 2015 Paris climate accord and, at home, undo President Joe Biden’s climate legacy — particularly the landmark Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). A Biden win, by contrast, would likely lead to stronger climate measures in the US and continued global momentum. The timing is important: Next year will be pivotal for climate diplomacy, with Paris signatories due to submit new, more ambitious nationally determined contributions — or climate action plans — in time for COP30 in Brazil. Europe’s electoral impact is unlikely to be as binary: Polls see a rightward tilt, albeit a weakening trend in recent weeks, that could undermine ambition. But if combined with a Trump win, this could create a bigger hit to global climate momentum.

The actual impact will depend on what exactly happens in the two elections. Here, Energy Compass outlines three basic scenarios:

Scenario 1: US and EU Both Move Right

A Trump win and major right-wing gains in the European Parliament would have the greatest impact on climate policy momentum. As well as withdrawing from the Paris Agreement, Trump could put pressure on multilateral development banks to ease their climate agendas, using US funding as leverage. Wider efforts to muster climate finance for the developing world, already languishing, could fade further. Republicans are already pushing back on the International Energy Agency’s net-zero focus, calling it a threat to energy security. At home, Trump would seek to roll back some parts of the IRA, putting US emissions reduction targets at risk.

In Europe, the center-right EPP and center-left S&D are expected to remain the parliament’s two biggest political groups — and the heart of its grand coalition — but to lose seats overall. A reduced coalition might not have enough clout to push through contentious green issues. Polling varies, but right-wing groups such as ID (home to Germany’s far-right AfD and France’s National Rally) and ECR, which support pulling back EU green policies, should gain seats.

Meanwhile, the EPP — the party of European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, the architect of Europe’s Green Deal who is now seeking re-election — has itself shifted further right, positioning itself as the farmers’ party. With its support, and amid a wave of farmer protests, environmental legislation was recently weakened. Earlier this year, the EPP mooted revising the 2035 ban on sales of non-CO2 neutral internal combustion engine vehicles. Since it’s the commission that proposes legislation to the European Parliament, a less climate-ambitious presidency under Von der Leyen playing to the populist vote could be significant.

Recent environmental and energy efficiency legislation would have been vulnerable with a stronger right-wing presence. Moreover, while the radical right has been fragmented in the past, increased power would give it more incentive to coordinate votes. As the EU enters the implementation phase of the Green Deal, there could be more concessions to business, industry and farmers — including as existing legislation, like the bloc’s Emissions Trading System, is periodically reviewed. Fights at the national level, over agricultural concessions or gas boiler phase-outs for example, could play out in the parliament. A less environment-friendly parliament could also backtrack on a proposed interim 2040 emissions reduction target of 90% that’s already at the lower end of a recommended 90%-95% range. The risk is that the EU’s path to reaching its legislated net zero by 2050 target becomes more chaotic.

The combination of a Trump return with weaker European leadership on climate could open space for others, like oil producers, to gain more leverage over the transition’s pace and shape. The final text from COP 28 in Dubai for the first time included agreement on transitioning away from fossil fuels, while many producers and industry separately signed up to a Decarbonization Charter pledging to eliminate almost all methane emissions by 2030. But the COP28 text also acknowledged a role for “transitional fuels” — read natural gas — and called for accelerated deployment of abatement technologies like carbon capture and storage (CCS). Oil and gas producers, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, argue that decarbonization of the global energy system and lower-carbon fossil fuels need to coexist for decades to come.
Conversely, a Trump win could also spur China to accelerate its green investment, which it sees as important for its energy security, some analysts say.

Scenario 2: Biden Stays, EU Tilts Right

While Biden is seen as a “climate president,” the combination of a second Biden term and a less ambitious EU would not necessarily set the two at odds. The climate agenda is deeply embedded in Europe’s world view, even among right-leaning parties, and recent energy security challenges have only reinforced this. The European Parliament’s radical right are typically not climate deniers — and do not have much of a domestic fossil fuel industry to protect. But they are increasingly environmentally skeptical, seek to protect the “European way of life” and are making plays for rural voters over transition policies and costs, the European University Institute’s Simon Hix said in a podcast.

If anything, the US and EU could end up being more aligned in some areas, albeit at the cost of ratcheting up ambition. At COP28 in Dubai, for example, the US — as a big oil and gas producer and consumer — struck a middle ground on CCS versus the EU’s robust call to limit its role in the transition. An EU policy document on CCS and other carbon removal solutions will be taken up by a new commission and parliament.

Scenario 3: Biden Wins, EU Center Holds

Recent polling shows Europe’s centrist parties regaining some momentum, with improved polling by the center-right EPP and centrist RE suggesting that the grand coalition would retain a relatively comfortable majority. If that trend holds or accelerates, and Biden wins, global climate efforts could gain further momentum.

Even then, economic realities can’t be ignored. Key to watch is policy implementation in EU member states — many are facing minor pushback on climate as it becomes ensnared in identity politics, while all face budgetary pressures around the cost of a transition rollout for voters and industry. European climate policy is now increasingly a “distributional conflict, where choices have to be made about who’s going to pay for these climate actions,” Hix said.

Source: Energy Intel



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