A EU-US convergence on the environment is closer every day. On Wednesday, US President Joe Biden and members of his Democratic Party announced their plans for a massive budget proposal worth 3.5 trillion dollars. And an embryonic proposal, which has just cropped up, closely resembles that of the carbon tax recently presented by the European Commission.
Also on Wednesday, a White House official announced that the Biden administration “was reviewing the European Commission’s proposals and broadly welcomed the idea of a carbon border tax,” per the New York Times.
The term is being used to designate a carbon border adjustment mechanism (CBAM), designed to avoid carbon leakage (allowed by other countries’ lower environmental standards), protect American producers in the process, and put pressure on said other countries to up their environmental game.
There are those who argue that the carbon tax may also appeal to the Republican party, mostly skeptical about choking the economy in the name of greener standards, because a CBAM would partially cushion the costs of a more environmentalist energy policy.
Since his electoral victory, Mr Biden has prioritized the climate agenda. His Leaders Summit in May was meant to underscore the global green leadership position to which the president aspires. But this time around, Europe’s more structured proposals are leading Washington to take some cues from Brussels.
Although the carbon tax is not an easy road to travel together (the American version is still in its legal infancy, the European one is cause for concern for the star-spangled allies), the slow but constant alignment suggests a reorientation, a pivot towards a geopolitical dimension within the environmental issues.
The possibility of a broader coordination between the EU and the US in sanctioning those who do not comply with the requirements of their idea of energy transition (as has already happened for human rights) tells us how much the climate issue is a matter of ethical politics as well as of geopolitical confrontation.
The green economy, the search for less polluting energy technologies, and decarbonization are concepts that also arise from an exquisitely strategic need. Years ago the US was unable to reach energetic independence, and had to rely on oil- and gas-rich countries. The push toward viable alternatives was necessary on the one hand to find a level of autonomy, on the other to counter the major powers in the energy sector. Above all, Russia, whose immense geography extends over gas and oil reservoirs which act as an economic engine for the Kremlin.
The strategy worked on a narrative level, gathering the consensus of that large part of the world that felt the need to disengage (out of ethics, but also appreciating the strategic level) from hydrocarbons. To the point that even with the discovery of shale gas reserves – which led the US to be independent on hydrocarbons – the push continued. And everything has come in handy with the US’ competition with China.
Decarbonization could bring Russia to its knees, thus making it a power-no-more, and therefore much more manageable. At the same time, China is also in difficulty, since it is still dependent on hydrocarbons while it claims the right to pollute (as others have done), now that its growth is more rapid.
So far the Dragon has resisted pressure from other green-minded countries, limiting itself to promising that emissions will peak in 2030 and then reach carbon neutrality in 2060 (whereas the EU, the US and various allies want to halve emissions in the next ten years and achieve neutrality by 2050).
But Beijing has studied the international mood, has set to work to become independent itself and find the way to become an electrified power. A passage that complicates things for Washington, which in the face of this needs to ask the West (intended as a broad concept, a shared vision of the world, rather than the geographic reality) for maximum compactness on the topic of the energy transition as a geopolitical vector.
The carbon taxes are an example of that likely international front of green-minded Western powers. The next thirty years of global actions are to be projected in this scenario: the comparison between the Western system and models which are proposed as an alternative, the geostrategic penetrations in the regions (think Africa) that contain those minerals resources necessary for the machines of transition, the global technology competition.