Europeans tend to devote too much headspace to following US politics and not enough bandwidth to what is going on on this side of the Atlantic. But this time around, it actually pays to keep an eye out, as this White House race has an existential element to it.
This September was the warmest since records began. Average temperatures were 1.3 degrees higher than pre-industrial levels and climate analysts predict that this is now going to be the trend.
Just a reminder: 2015’s Paris Agreement commits its signatories to curbing global warming at 1.5 degrees – the limit beyond which parts of the planet start to become uninhabitable – by 2100.
Climate models are unwieldy beasts but exceeding 1.5 will almost certainly lead to biodiversity loss, mass crop failures, sea-level rise and – scariest of all – tipping points, which could mean even the most ambitious pollution-axing policies are too late to have any effect.
Donald Trump decided to pull the US out of the Paris accord in mid-2017 for reasons that are now, frankly, irrelevant. The terms of the agreement mean that the States will not be fully out until 4 November, the day after election day.
Democratic challenger Joe Biden has pledged that rejoining the accord will be one of his very first acts if he wins the vote. Thankfully, unlike leaving the EU, signing back up will not be a tortuous process.
But will a Biden victory and reinforced Paris deal make a difference, given how ostensibly hopeless the situation already looks? Being 0.2 degrees from climate oblivion – even on a monthly basis – suggests we are losing the game heavily, with only seconds left on the clock.
Still, optimism must prevail.
Europe certainly cannot fight climate change alone; its contribution to emissions production and consumption is significant, but not enough for even the greenest domestic policies to solve the global problem.
China gave us all hope last month by pledging to go carbon-neutral by 2060 – too late for some, admittedly – but its upcoming five-year-plan could prove to be a literal life-saving strategy.
But without the US on board, the climate coalition is not big enough to make a difference. Any plans the EU has to tax polluting imports, which is hailed as a sure-fire way to decarbonise global trade, falls apart if Trump stays for four more years.
The current president still believes in ‘clean coal’, has rolled back clean vehicle standards, thinks wildfires can be prevented by raking forests and basically does not accept that human activity has a significant impact on the climate, if you need reminding.
As far as green diplomacy efforts go, the likes of India and Russia – both huge emitters – will not make wholesale changes at the pace needed if there is no US-UK-EU-China climate bloc exerting pressure.
So on 3 November, you are allowed to stay up late and watch the results come pouring in, as non-Americans most certainly have a dog in this crucial race.
A message from CEN and CENELEC: Standards power the Green Deal. On 14 October, CEN and CENELEC will celebrate World Standards Day 2020, dedicated to “Protecting the planet through standards”. Europe is at the forefront of the green transition. Read how European standards support and power the Green Deal’s ambitions.
MEPs signed off on beefed-up climate targets. Read this double interview with two German lawmakers on what they think the Bundesrepublik should do and how the new goals could be achieved.
Fourteen EU countries have set out their position on the future regulation of Artificial Intelligence, urging the European Commission to adopt a “soft law approach”. A dedicated Bundestag committee began its work dissecting the Wirecard scandal.
Long-term budget talks have entered another round. The Parliament insists that the ball is in the court of the German rotating presidency, as a deal still proves to be quite elusive.
The UK government published an updated set of border rules for after the Brexit transition period ends. EU Council boss Charles Michel had earlier called on Westminster to put its cards on the table.
European Parliament President David Sassoli is self-isolating after coming into contact with someone who tested positive. Belgium is reportedly looking to recruit more contact tracers in order to work through a mounting backlog.
Donald Trump will not participate in the next presidential debate after organisers said it would be a virtual affair. He also criticised the Welsh government’s handling of the pandemic. Today’s Brief author wishes Joe Biden all the luck in the world for the 3 November vote.
Look out for…
Commissioners Borrell and Lenarčič continue their Ethiopia visit
Views are the author’s
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]