Ed’s note: Surviving election cycles


As the United States presidential race hots up, and various policy adjustments are proposed, I have a question: How do you ensure climate change policy remains in place especially after a change in administration?

Presidential candidate Joe Biden has recently announced a $2 trillion climate and environment policy plan with the goal of having 100% clean energy as the standard by 2035. In contrast, incumbent Donald Trump’s administration “completed a regulation that unilaterally weakened the cornerstone National Environmental Policy Act, limiting public review of federal infrastructure … relieving infrastructure planners of even considering climate change in their assessments.” [New York Times]

When world leaders ratified the Paris Agreement in 2016, it felt like – despite much wrangling behind the scenes – the world was pulling in the same direction with regards the need to tackle climate change.

Commitments were made, backs were slapped, and photographs were taken… and then the new administration in the United States pulled the plug on that country’s participation. Now, if it had been another country, it would have been sad, but ‘one of those things’…

However, when one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gases in the world pulls out of a global commitment – the impact is felt around the globe. Sadly, the true impact of the decision will be felt by the whole world many, many years after this administration is but a memory. This is because, similarly to a large ocean liner, a course correction cannot be made once you’ve entered the harbour – by that stage it’s too late. This is a course correction that needs to be made 20-50 years ahead of its impact if you wish to avoid a collision. By that time all of our current politicians will be the focus of history and natural science classes. Our grandchildren or their grandchildren will be discussing why we are or aren’t on the right path to save the planet.

So, back to the original question – how do we ensure that policies which mitigate and attempt to reverse climate change survive a change in government?

It’s all in the drafting. According to Thomas Hale, professor of public policy at Oxford University, the Paris Agreement itself has some built-in safeguards. In an undated post [although likely written at the beginning of the Trump administration’s tenure], Hale said: “If Trump withdraws from it, as he has promised, it will take four years before the US actually leaves (or one year to leave the overarching UN climate convention).

“And, because of clever drafting that elides the US Senate, a new President could instantly re-ratify the Agreement after he or she comes into office.” So this may be the answer for a single term change in administration. What about in the longer term?

In Denmark, the Climate Act may be an answer.  The law, which came into effect in June 2020, aims to provide an enduring solution to the issue of climate change. This is done by ensuring that “the government will need to find a majority parliamentary approval of its global and national climate strategies.” Without that majority approval, it could theoretically lead to the government having to step down.

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One of my colleagues is confident that political and climate activism is the way. Certainly, the forward movement in this regard over the past 18 months would seem to support that theory. Although, if you ‘get the government you voted for’ what happens when you get stuck with the one you didn’t vote for? Do you just have to accept that rolling back policy is part of the status quo? Or, did you vote for a new government precisely because you wanted change?

In a previous ed’s note, I mentioned that the World Economic Forum’s Roberto Bocca proposal for a global body to take on the role of an “enabler of energy stability”. My understanding is that he proposes the energy transition should fall to a body which will take global interests and considerations. By placing these above nationalistic considerations, we can “harmonise the often-conflicting priorities and outline frameworks for a just and stable transition.”

Is this an option?

In 2009 Detlef F. Sprinz and colleagues proposed a Climate Compensation Fund for Climate Impacts. A “liability system for climate change” is voluntarily created “among those who have emitted GHGs. Interested parties (countries, companies and others) would make contributions to the fund based on their share of aggregated emissions.  A neutral climate court would make awards with respect to the climate-related component of damages that compensation is sought for.  

Or, is it perhaps the creation of a Global Climate Change Court? It would operate similarly to the International Criminal Court in The Hague but have the power to impose sanctions on countries. Even if they have not ratified the authority of said court.  Of course, this is easier said than done, especially if the legitimacy of said court is questioned, but it’s an idea…

There are many, many caveats and additional considerations and questions for all of these suggestions: Who pays? How do you impose the principals of the solution on a ‘non-member’ country? Does this contradict the work being done by the COP meetings and agreements? Who gets to decide which policy deserves a life span longer than election cycles? How do you balance national good vs international considerations? Do you enshrine policy into law for a specified period of time?

How do you plan your future as a utility or company, if policies keep changing? How do you encourage investment into the building of supporting infrastructure and manufacturing and OEMs if policy is liable to change?

I’m giving myself a headache… Let us know if you have any thoughts on this – or other coverage on Smart Energy International

Wishing you a headache free week!

Until next time