Building New Transatlantic Bridges on Climate Change

Kirsten Verclas

ORISE Science and Technology Policy Fellow

Kirsten Verclas is an ORISE Science and Technology Policy Fellow. Previously, she was a Program Manager in the International Department of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) working on regulatory partnerships in Africa under a NARUC-U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Cooperative Agreement. Before coming to NARUC, Ms. Verclas was a Senior Program Manager at the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies (AICGS) at Johns Hopkins University, where she managed the Institute’s grant projects. She initially joined AICGS as Executive Assistant in 2003 and started working in the Institute’s Research Program in 2008. Ms. Verclas has written extensively on energy and climate as well as security policy in the transatlantic context. She holds a BA in International Relations with a Minor in Economics from Franklin and Marshall College and an MA in International Relations with a concentration in Security Studies from The Elliott School at The George Washington University. She also earned an MS in Energy Policy and Climate from Johns Hopkins University in August 2013.

She is a 2017-2018 participant in AICGS’ project “A German-American Dialogue of the Next Generation: Global Responsibility, Joint Engagement,” sponsored by the Transatlantik-Programm der Bundesrepublik Deutschland aus Mitteln des European Recovery Program (ERP) des Bundesministeriums für Wirtschaft und Energie (BMWi).

President Trump’s announcement of the U.S. withdrawal from the UN Paris Climate Agreement caused many European policymakers and experts to shift their focus on deepening the subnational transatlantic energy and climate cooperation. U.S. states—unsatisfied with the U.S. administration’s domestic and international climate policies—are eagerly embracing the European overtures. Governor Jerry Brown of California has already repeatedly traveled to Germany to engage with German federal and state leaders on energy and climate issues, attended the COP23 in Bonn, and gave a speech in front of the European Parliament—something usually reserved for heads of states.

The COP23 also recognized the importance of indigenous communities. Tribal voices are underrepresented in the transatlantic partnership. While California and New York are certainly leading the U.S. state efforts in mitigating climate change, European policymakers should not limit their engagements only to those states. Other actors focused on increasing renewable energy, for instance, are the tribes in the U.S.  While reservations account for 2 percent of the U.S.’ land mass, they hold about 5 percent of U.S. renewable energy resources. Like U.S. states, the view on climate change and renewable energy among tribes is not monolithic. Some tribes’ economy is dependent on the exploitation of coal, natural gas, and oil. Other tribes, for example the Blue Lake Rancheria Tribe in California, have emerged as leaders in reducing greenhouse gas emissions by investing in renewable energy, storage, and microgrid solutions. By expanding the transatlantic engagement beyond the states that are already engaged and also looking at potential partnerships with tribes and tribal organizations, European-U.S. cooperation on climate change adaptation and mitigation could benefit.

It is important, however, not to completely discount Washington on the issue of climate change. Congress recently completed negotiations of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018, and the bipartisan conference report states that “climate change is a direct threat to the national security of the United States and is impacting stability in areas of the world both where the U.S. Armed Forces are operating today, and where strategic implications for future conflict exist.” The act has already been passed by the U.S. House of Representatives and is now awaiting passage in the Senate. Amendments to the Act, which would have stripped the language referring to climate change from the bill as well as removed a requirement for the defense department to study the impact of climate change on the military, were defeated by a bipartisan coalition. Many of the votes defeating those amendments came from members of the newly-formed bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus, which currently has 31 members of Congress from each party. Ties to Congress continue to be an important aspect of the transatlantic partnership on climate change, especially if climate change can be discussed through a security lens.

The Department of Defense will continue to play a role in adapting and mitigating climate change. Both U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford have stated that the effects of climate change have an impact on U.S. security. The U.S. military has set renewable energy goals for its military installations—the army, for example, is one third of the way to meeting its goal of 1 GW of renewable energy powering its bases by 2025. Supplying its bases and forward troops with renewable energy is a key element of making the U.S. military more resilient. As Europe and the U.S. have a strong military cooperation already in place, collaborating on innovative technology that will increase the resiliency of the armed forces (for example through pairing renewable energy and energy storage) could be an avenue of transatlantic partnership even on the federal level.

Transatlantic engagement on climate change should continue on multiple levels—including with U.S. states, tribes, and the federal government. A focus on increasing military resiliency through renewable energy and energy diversification could enable transatlantic cooperation not only on security, but also on climate change on the federal level. And by engaging tribes and tribal organizations on climate change and energy issues, transatlantic relations can be broadened beyond the traditional partners.

The views expressed are those of the author(s) alone. They do not necessarily reflect the views of the American-German Institute.