Zielona feministyczna polityka zagraniczna dla UE

Od Szwecji po Meksyk, awangarda państw toruje drogę feministycznej polityce zagranicznej. Unia Europejska poczyniła postępy w promowaniu  równości płci w swoich działaniach zewnętrznych, ale pozostaje dużo do zrobienia, zanim doprowadzi to do zmiany strukturalnej. Juliane Schmidt apeluje o zakorzenioną w  intersekcjonalności1  zieloną politykę feministyczną, która umożliwiłaby Unii Europejskiej realizację w praktyce jej ideałów wolności i równości. 

Kwestia równości płci  znalazła się w centrum  uwagi w kwietniu 2021 r., po tym, gdy  podczas szczytu w Turcji nie przewidziano krzesła dla Przewodniczącej Komisji Europejskiej Ursuli von der Leyen. Niezależnie od tego, czy „safogate” została nieproporcjonalnie wyolbrzymiona, czy też nie, incydent ten pokazał, jak dużo pozostaje do zrobienia w całej Unii Europejskiej, jej instytucjach i państwach członkowskich, aby zwiększyć świadomość kwestii związanych z równouprawnieniem płci. Dla wielu osób  to zdarzenie  było tylko kroplą w morzu zdominowanego przez mężczyzn świata polityki zagranicznej.  

Świat polityki staje się dzisiaj coraz bardziej złożony i zantagonizowany. Unia Europejska próbuje znaleźć w nim swoje miejsce, nie zdradzając jednocześnie swoich fundamentalnych wartości wolności i równości, jak również zobowiązania do przestrzegania praw człowieka i  różnego rodzaju mniejszości. Przyjęcie zielonej polityki feministycznej umożliwiłoby UE rzeczywistą realizację tych wartości. 

Kwestionowanie struktur i dynamiki władzy UE 

Feministyczna polityka zagraniczna dąży do umieszczenia kwestii równości płci w głównym nurcie polityki zagranicznej i bezpieczeństwa.  Dotyczy ona przede wszystkim ochrony praw człowieka kobiet i dziewcząt oraz uznania, że jest to warunek wstępny osiągnięcia szerszych celów  politycznych, takich jak pokój, bezpieczeństwo i zrównoważony rozwój.  Najczęściej skupia się na zwalczaniu przemocy seksualnej i promowaniu edukacji kobiet, wzmocnienia pozycji kobiet w życiu gospodarczym oraz ich reprezentacji w polityce i podejmowaniu decyzji (w tym w negocjacjach pokojowych). 

Zielona feministyczna polityka zagraniczna posuwa się o krok dalej. Jest głęboko zakorzeniona, uznając, że płeć jest konstruktem społecznym, i że globalne wyzwania, takie jak konflikty, zmiana klimatu i klęski żywiołowe, mają konsekwencje związane z aspektem płci, które powodują nasilenie różnych, wzajemnie powiązanych form dyskryminacji. Kwestionuje status quo, apelując o przemyślenie na nowo niesprawiedliwych norm płciowych i patriarchalnej dynamiki władzy. Co ważne, zielona feministyczna polityka zagraniczna przyjmuje podejście intersekcjonalne –  jej celem jest osiągnięcie równości dla wszystkich ludzi i płci (nie tylko białych, heteroseksualnych, pełnosprawnych i cispłciowych kobiet). Promuje ona  zmianę opartą na prawach i włączających, niedyskryminacyjnych interakcjach poprzez wielowymiarowe podejście we wszystkich dziedzinach polityki, w tym w wymiarze zewnętrznym. Bezpieczeństwo, prawa człowieka, migracja, handel, pomoc rozwojowa i humanitarna oraz zmiana klimatu – wszystkie one muszą być traktowane z uwzględnieniem ich wzajemnego powiązania.  

Co to oznacza w praktyce? Po pierwsze, zajęcie się brakiem równości w strukturach i relacjach władzy wewnątrz instytucji Unii Europejskiej, aby zwiększyć obecność kobiet i grup marginalizowanych w procesach kształtowania polityki i podnieść świadomość kwestii związanych z płcią. Zaczynając od góry, należy zastosować szereg środków we wszystkich instytucjach i służbach. Oprócz wielu innych, powinny one zawierać obowiązkowe szkolenia dla wszystkich pracowników UE; politykę zerowej tolerancji dla molestowania seksualnego i przemocy o podłożu seksualnym; wytyczne dotyczące różnorodności, równości i integracji społecznej; oraz procedury rekrutacyjne uwzględniające problematykę płci. Muszą im towarzyszyć szczegółowe, możliwe do zmierzenia cele (w tym cele dotyczące różnorodności w unijnych instytucjach, delegacjach i misjach), jak również monitoring i kontynuacja. 

Jeśli chodzi o treść polityki, zielona feministyczna polityka zagraniczna implikuje  przemyślenie na nowo wielu obszarów. W zakresie polityki bezpieczeństwa, oznacza to odejście od androcentrycznego rozumienia bezpieczeństwa z wiążącymi się z nim figurami silnych mężczyzn i obrazami męskiej siły. Powinno  być ono zastąpione długoterminowym rozumieniem bezpieczeństwa i stabilności, które jest feministyczne i włączające. Badania pokazują, że strategie, które nie dążą do zakończenia nierówności i niesprawiedliwości, nie  doprowadzą do trwałego pokoju. Podobnie, unijna polityka rozwojowa powinna odejść od podejścia neokolonialnego, które opiera się na  uzależnieniu od pomocy i  wydobywaniu surowców, do podejścia zorientowanego na upodmiotowienie i poszanowanie praw człowieka. Po części, wymaga to działań humanitarnych uwzględniających  problematykę płci oraz zmianę narracji wokół kobiet i grup zmarginalizowanych na taką, która uzna je przede wszystkim  za podmioty pozytywnych zmian, a nie tylko beneficjentów pomocy. 

Badania pokazują, że strategie, które nie dążą do zakończenia nierówności i niesprawiedliwości, nie  doprowadzą do trwałego pokoju.

Strategie, które nie dążą do zakończenia nierówności i niesprawiedliwości, nie  doprowadzą do trwałego pokoju.  

Oznacza to również wykorzystanie pozycji UE jako podmiotu globalnego handlu, poprzez zawarcie szczegółowych i wiążących  rozdziałów dotyczących problematyki płci lub wymogów zachowania należytej staranności we wszystkich umowach handlowych UE.  Unia Europejska powinna podjąć wyraźne zobowiązanie do promowania praw osób  LGBTQI+ w swojej polityce zagranicznej oraz  dążyć do tego, by kobiety i grupy zmarginalizowane brały udział w międzynarodowym procesie podejmowania decyzji dotyczących działań na rzecz klimatu. 

Polityka zagraniczna musi się opierać na ścisłej współpracy ze społeczeństwem obywatelskim, w szczególności z obrońcami praw kobiet i grup zmarginalizowanych. Powinni  oni/one być naturalnymi sojusznikami, jeśli chodzi o rozwijanie inkluzywnych strategii badawczych z międzysektorową perspektywą, których wciąż relatywnie brakuje w procesach kształtowania polityki UE. Drobiazgowe międzysektorowe analizy i systematyczne oceny wpływu powinny stanowić podstawę wszystkich polityk UE, wraz z wyspecjalizowanymi doradcami monitorującymi postęp i specjalnymi zasobami oraz projektami budżetowymi służącymi finansowaniu  tych zmian. 

Wiosną 2021 roku grupa Zieloni/Wolny Sojusz Europejski w Parlamencie Europejskim uczyniła krok w tym kierunku, publikując strategię, która postuluje feministyczną politykę zagraniczną i opisuje szczegółowo, jak ją wprowadzić. Strategia ta przedstawia czterostronne podejście: reprezentacja wszystkich płci i udział w procesach podejmowania decyzji; podejście oparte na prawach, które zapewnia ochronę podstawowych wolności wszystkich ludzi, a nie tylko garstki uprzywilejowanych; specjalne fundusze i zasoby; oraz użycie danych, badania i szerokie konsultacje, które posłużą za podstawę opracowania rozwiązań uwzględniających różnorakie i częściowo pokrywające się formy dyskryminacji. 

Wolny postęp na drodze do zgodnej z zasadą równości płci polityki zagranicznej UE 

Globalny trend w kierunku nowego podejścia do polityki zagranicznej daje się zauważyć od mniej więcej dwóch dekad. W roku 2000 Rada Bezpieczeństwa ONZ przyjęła przełomową rezolucję w sprawie kobiet, pokoju i bezpieczeństwa. W 2018 roku UE ustanowiła swój program na rzecz kobiet, pokoju i bezpieczeństwa, w tym podejście strategiczne i plan działania na lata 2019-2024. W 2020 roku uchwaliła trzecią część planu działania (Gender Action Plan III – GAP III) w sprawie równości płci, która określa założenia   programu na rzecz równości płci i równouprawnienia kobiet w zewnętrznych działaniach UE.  Wszystko to przyczyniło się do wejścia kwestii równości płci do głównego nurtu polityki zagranicznej UE i mogłoby posłużyć za podstawę europejskiej feministycznej polityki zagranicznej. Ale kilka państw wyprzedza  pozostałe kraje UE, jeśli chodzi o wprowadzanie w życie założeń feministycznej polityki zagranicznej.  

Pionierką w tej dziedzinie jest Szwecja, która jako pierwsze państwo na świecie w 2014 roku ogłosiła przyjęcie feministycznej polityki zagranicznej. W 2018 roku szwedzkie Ministerstwo Spraw Zagranicznych opublikowało oparty na tym podejściu informator, aby udostępnić zbiór praktycznych informacji i zainspirować dalszą pracę w obszarze feministycznej polityki zagranicznej. W jej ramach Szwecja ma koordynatorkę feministycznej polityki zagranicznej, sieć punktów kontaktowych w instytucjach i służbach  państwowych, jak również corocznie uaktualniany plan działania. Ponadto Szwecja przeznacza 90 procent swojej pomocy rozwojowej na cele związane z równouprawnieniem płci. Szwedzka feministyczna polityka zagraniczna jest nieodłączną częścią szerszego programu na rzecz równości płci w tym kraju, a jego rząd określa się nawet jako feministyczny.  

Mężczyźni zajmują prawie 80 procent wyższych stanowisk i około 70 procent stanowisk średniego szczebla w EEAS.

Podążając śladami Szwecji kilka innych krajów UE, w tym LuksemburgHiszpania i Cypr,  ogłosiło przyjęcie feministycznej polityki zagranicznej, podczas gdy Francja wdrożyła feministyczne podejście do dyplomacji. Od 2014 roku 79 państw opracowało krajowe plany działania na rzecz poprawy udziału kobiet w polityce zagranicznej i bezpieczeństwa. Poza UE, w 2017 roku Kanada wprowadziła feministyczną politykę rozwojową. W 2020 roku Meksyk stał się pierwszym krajem  Ameryce Łacińskiej, który przyjął feministyczną politykę zagraniczną, a Malezja zasygnalizowała, że również nosi się z takim zamiarem. 

Niemniej jednak, kobiety i przedstawiciele oraz przedstawicielki grup zmarginalizowanych są dzisiaj nadal mniejszością wśród osób zajmujących wysokie stanowiska w systemach politycznych lub służbach dyplomatycznych i militarnych  krajów członkowskich UE. Przy obecnym tempie postępu  pozostaną nią jeszcze przez długi czas. GAP III jest dużym osiągnięciem, lecz nie idzie wystarczająco daleko, by skutecznie promować zmianę strukturalną. Podobnie jak inne dokumenty UE  jest napisany niewystarczająco integracyjnym językiem, opartym na binarnej koncepcji płci. Brakuje w nim zasad budżetowania uwzględniających problematykę płci i, pomimo uznania włączenia tematyki płci do głównego nurtu polityki za „odpowiedzialność dla wszystkich”, istniejące plany działania i strategie – w tym te, które są częścią  programu na rzecz kobiet, pokoju i bezpieczeństwa – nie są w wystarczającym stopniu wprowadzane w życie. Ponadto wiele strategii UE nadal nie uwzględnia problematyki płci i ich równouprawnienia lub są one niespójne w znaczeniu intersekcjonalności. Na przykład, krótko po publikacji GAP III Komisja Europejska ogłosiła swoją strategię na rzecz odnowy multilateralizmu, w której całkowicie zabrakło wymiaru płci i intersekcjonalności.  

GAP III nie odnosi się również w wystarczającym stopniu do rosnących wyzwań w kontekście  międzynarodowym, w którym mamy do czynienia ze sprzeciwem wobec praw kobiet i grup zmarginalizowanych oraz kurczeniem się przestrzeni dla społeczeństwa obywatelskiego. Widzimy to w poważnych problemach finansowych organizacji społecznych, przywróceniu „zasady globalnego knebla”2 podczas prezydentury Donalda Trumpa, zwiększającym się sprzeciwie wobec Konwencji Stambulskiej o zapobieganiu i zwalczaniu przemocy wobec kobiet (w tym wśród państw członkowskich UE), a także we wzrastającym dyskursie antygenderowym na całym świecie.  Przejawem tego ostatniego zjawiska są między innymi trudności z uchwaleniem ostatniej rezolucji ONZ w sprawie kobiet, pokoju i bezpieczeństwa. Jego skutkiem w UE jest brak jakichkolwiek konkretnych wniosków dotyczących GAP III, jak również kwestionowanie przez niektóre państwa członkowskie prawie wszystkich tekstów odnoszących się równości płci lub praw osób LGBTQI+. 

Służba dyplomatyczna UE nie wywiązuje się z deklaracji 

W odniesieniu do struktur UE największe wyzwania dla zielonej feministycznej polityki zagranicznej dotyczą zarządzania Europejską Służbą Działań Zewnętrznych (ang.European External Action Service – EEAS), której przewodniczy Wysoki Przedstawiciel Josep Borrell. Mężczyźni zajmują w tej instytucji prawie 80 procent wyższych stanowisk i około 70 procent stanowisk średniego szczebla (jedynie w przypadku tych drugich zwiększyła się reprezentacja kobiet, odkąd Borrell objął swoje stanowisko w grudniu 2019 roku). Program działania na rzecz zmniejszenia nierównowagi płci w zarządzaniu EEAS stanowi dobry początek, ale jest jeszcze bardzo dużo do zrobienia, jeśli chodzi o jego wdrożenie, zapewnienie partycypacji i równowagi pomiędzy pracą a życiem prywatnym, zajęcie się problemem braku podań o pracę ze strony kobiet i osób z grup zmarginalizowanych,  a także włączenie perspektywy intersekcjonalnej do opisu stanowisk pracy i procesu oceny  pracowników. Poza poprawną politycznie retoryką, Borrell nie wyróżnia się jako orędownik równości płci i intersekcjonalności. Politico cytowała ostatnio pracowników EEAS, opisujących zdominowaną przez mężczyzn kulturę pracy,  w której kwestia równości płci nie jest traktowana  przez kierownictwo poważnie i pozostawiona głównie kobietom. 

Mężczyźni zajmują  prawie 80 procent wyższych stanowisk i około 70 procent stanowisk średniego szczebla w EEAS. 

Niedawna procedura ponownego mianowania na stanowisko głównego doradcy EEAS ds. równouprawnienia płci, kobiet, pokoju i bezpieczeństwa również była niepokojącym wyrazem postrzegania integracji przez kierownictwo EEAS, jako kwestii o o niewielkim znaczeniu  Po zakończeniu kadencji pod koniec 2020 roku procedura mianowania następczyni rozpoczęła się dopiero po wielu skargach eurodeputowanych i społeczeństwa obywatelskiego. Dopiero w kwietniu 2021 roku holenderska dyplomatka Stella Ronner-Grubacic została mianowana doradczynią sekretarza generalnego ds. równouprawnienia płci i różnorodności, ale zmieniona nazwa tego stanowiska sugeruje, że urząd ten będzie miał nowe zadania, mniejsze znaczenie i ograniczone zasoby.   Łączenie odpowiedzialności za ogólną różnorodność i równość płci nie wskazuje na skierowanie należytej uwagi i koniecznych środków na obie z tych kwestii. 

Kolejnym problemem  jest brak współpracy EEAS ze społeczeństwem obywatelskim. Wymownym tego przykładem może być wizyta Specjalnego Przedstawiciela  UE ds. dialogu pomiędzy Belgradem a Pristiną,  Miroslava Lajčáka w Kosowie w listopadzie 2020 roku, podczas której nie spotkał się on z przedstawicielkami żadnej z organizacji zajmujących się prawami kobiet. W odpowiedzi na krytykę stwierdził, że w  rzeczywistości spotkał się z „kobietami z Kosowa”, co oznacza całkowity brak zrozumienia zagadnienia, o którym tu mowa. Są również doniesienia, że delegacje UE zlecają pracę związaną z GAP III,  w tym konsultacje z  przedstawicielkami społeczeństwa obywatelskiego, podmiotom zewnętrznym, co skutkuje ogromnym ograniczeniem zaangażowania  w te procesy i kontaktu z niezależnymi ekspertami. Ponadto obnaża to brak kompetencji i zasobów, które umożliwiłyby prowadzenie tej pracy przez instytucje unijne.  

Zielona feministyczna polityka zagraniczna: od koncepcji do praktyki 

Zielona feministyczna polityka zagraniczna nie jest czymś, co wystarczy „odfajkować”. Aby była skuteczna, wymaga rzeczywistej zmiany systemowej wewnątrz Unii Europejskiej. Europejska polityka zagraniczna jest obecnie  głównie  kształtowana przez starszych, białych mężczyzn, którzy zazwyczaj tworzą polityki służące interesom innych starszych, białych mężczyzn. Jeżeli nie zmienimy oblicza polityki zagranicznej UE, pozostanie ono męskie, blade i znużone. Ale sama reprezentacja – podejście „dodaj kobiety/mniejszości i zamieszaj” (ang. “add-women/minorities-and-stir” approach) – nie przekłada się automatycznie na bardziej integracyjną i transformatywną politykę. Wdrożenie zielonej feministycznej polityki zagranicznej wymaga kompleksowego podejścia i progresywnego przywództwa, które bierze odpowiedzialność za wszystkie konieczne procesy. Ważne będą zmiany w kulturze instytucjonalnej UE – kampanie informacyjne, wytyczne i szkolenia mogą przyczynić się do zmiany nastawienia i sposobu myślenia. 

Intersekcjonalność musi być naczelną zasadą feministycznej polityki zagranicznej UE. 

Feministyczna polityka zagraniczna nie jest nową koncepcją i wielu ekspertów/ekspertek podkreślało konieczność podejścia międzysektorowego.  Jednak przykłady feministycznej polityki zagranicznej, w tym w Szwecji, są często krytykowane ze względu na nie uwzględnianie w wystarczającym stopniu innych grup zmarginalizowanych, takich jak LGBTQI+ i ludzie dyskryminowani ze względu na rasę. Intersekcjonalność musi więc być naczelną zasadą feministycznej polityki zagranicznej UE. Musi to być poparte odpowiednimi środkami (dokumentami politycznymi, strategiami, planami działania, publicznymi oświadczeniami, przypisanymi zasobami), jak również wsparciem wszystkich krajów członkowskich UE. 

Wziąwszy pod uwagę nasilający się w niektórych państwach członkowskich sprzeciw wobec równości płci i praw osób LGBTQI+, droga do takiej zmiany paradygmatu wydaje się być jeszcze daleka. Chociaż istnieje awangarda państw, które rozwijają feministyczną politykę zagraniczną, są również takie, dla których jest ona wciąż nie do pomyślenia. Podobny podział można zaobserwować pomiędzy konserwatywnymi/prawicowymi a liberalnymi/lewicowymi partiami w Parlamencie Europejskim, gdzie wprowadzenie progresywnego języka w odniesieniu do płci do jakiegokolwiek tekstu pozostaje wyzwaniem. Ale ponieważ UE opiera się na kompromisie i konsensusie, w wciąż ma szansę na pozycję lidera w tej kwestii. 

Aby to osiągnąć, potrzebni są ludzie, którzy są wystarczająco odważni, by dążyć do zmian transformacyjnych, zamiast niewielkich reform tu i tam. Kiedy w 2014 roku szwedzka minister spraw zagranicznych, Margot Wallström po raz pierwszy ogłosiła feministyczną politykę zagraniczną jej państwa, została wyśmiana. Kilka lat później idea ta znalazła się w głównym nurcie, wzrasta świadomość jej znaczenia i podejmowane są coraz liczniejsze działania. Jeśli spojrzymy na Niemcy przed zbliżającymi się wyborami federalnymi we wrześniu 2021 roku, zobaczymy znaki dające nadzieję, ponieważ Zieloni popierają feministyczny rząd i feministyczna politykę zagraniczną (przeczytaj więcej na stronie: German Greens). 

Zielona feministyczna polityka zagraniczna jest częścią szerszej debaty na temat godzenia fundamentalnych wartości UE z jej polityką zagraniczną. Równość jest zapisana traktatach unijnych. Wdrożenie zielonej feministycznej polityki zagranicznej mogłoby skutecznie wprowadzić tę wartość do praktyki polityki zagranicznej. UE musi zaprzestać traktowania praw i wartości, jako kwestii mało istotnych w polityce zagranicznej. Wyznaczyła sobie standard, w którym równość oraz uniwersalne prawa  i możliwości znajdują się na przedzie i w centrum. Teraz powinna o to walczyć wszelkimi dostępnymi środkami. 

Juliane Schmidt 

Juliane Schmidt jest doradczynią grupy Zieloni/Wolny Sojusz Europejski w Parlamencie Europejskim, oprócz innych tematów zajmuje się kwestią równości płci w europejskiej polityce zagranicznej. Pełni funkcję wiceprezeski  The Brussels Binder, organizacji, która dąży do wzmocnienia głosu kobiet w unijnych debatach politycznych. 

The Environmental Bias of Trade Policy

Despite the climate law, the Fit for 55 package, the emission trading market, and all the climate ambitions the European Green Deal comes with, the EU still offers carbon-heavy industries an implicit subsidy to pollute. How? Through the environmental bias of its trade policy: trade regulation helps dirty industries who can lobby on obscure details without much opposition. The process creates a global subsidy on pollution that weighs against efforts to mitigate and prevent climate change.

While the speed of European Union climate action is debatable, the EU’s legislative push to decarbonise stretches back decades. Putting a price on carbon emissions is a major part of such efforts. First enacted in 2005, the Emissions Trading System (ETS) was the first international carbon market in the world. It remains the largest, covering all EU countries plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Norway.

In this system, factories, power stations, and other plants buy or receive tradable emissions allowances. At the end of each year, these installations need to surrender enough allowances to fully cover their emissions. Paired with a set cap on total emissions that diminishes over time, the mechanism forces installations to progressively reduce their emissions.

While the system functions well in the European framework, it also poses the risk of carbon leakage – namely that carbon-intensive production will move outside the EU, only for the output to be imported back into the European market at a lower price. Hence, EU proposals for a carbon border adjustment mechanism (CBAM) were first put forward in 2019.

Formally proposed by the Commission in July 2021, the CBAM will apply to the iron and steel, cement, fertiliser, aluminium, and electricity generation sectors. A tax on imports equivalent to any difference in the level of carbon taxation between the EU and other countries will ensure that domestic products and imports remain competitive. More broadly, the CBAM falls under the ETS system reform. If the current ETS scheme puts a price on every ton of CO2 emitted by the electric, aviation, steel, and chemicals sectors, the reform aims to extend it to marine and road transport, shipping, and heating fuels. The CBAM also addresses the issue of free ETS credit allocations – emissions permits granted for free to carbon-intensive industries – which currently represent an implicit subsidy to pollute, and are bound to be phased out in 10 years’ time.

Under the newly proposed scheme, EU importers would need to buy carbon certificates corresponding to the carbon price that would have been paid had the production taken place in the EU. If a non-EU producer has already paid a carbon tax in a third country, the EU importer can deduct the corresponding cost.

The proposal is supported by industrial trade unions. “CBAM is a must-have to keep energy-intensive industries in Europe while decarbonising. A situation where all steel or chemical products are produced outside of Europe in much more carbon-intensive ways would be bad economically speaking but also a disaster for the environment” explains Benjamin Denis of IndustriAll. However, this position of trade unions also reflects the ambiguity that leads to the environmental bias of trade policy: concerns about competitiveness can serve as a rhetorical basis to lobby against the environment.

Trade policy and decarbonisation

Writing in the pages of The Guardian, correspondent Jennifer Rankin predicted that the EU’s Fit for 55 proposals would be met by a “frenzy of lobbying” from campaigners, business groups and non-EU countries. While the risk of carbon-intensive stakeholders watering the reforms down is real, it is not the only issue. There is a further environmental bias of trade policy that the current legislative package does not tackle.

Let’s assume that the mechanism works perfectly. One would think that incentives for firms are now in line with the societal need to reduce emissions: since firms pay the CBAM amount if they want to import dirty goods into the EU, higher costs will lower the supply of the dirty goods. Not quite, because the mechanism only covers the tip of the iceberg; a significant part of total costs remains underwater.

Research from the economist Joseph Shapiro demonstrates how environmental policy cannot afford to overlook the details of trade policy. As Shapiro explains, import tariffs and non-tariff barriers are “substantially lower on dirty than clean industries” in most countries. Dirtier industries might face higher carbon costs – which means they are punished by environmental policy – but they pay less in tariffs – which means they are rewarded by trade policy. “This difference in trade policy creates a global implicit subsidy to CO2 emissions in internationally traded goods,” writes Shapiro. This subsidy is global because all trading partners benefit from cheaper goods, not just the origin country.

The carbon border adjustment mechanism only covers the tip of the iceberg

To bullet-proof climate policy, the other incentives to pollute that come from trade policy need to be tackled. Here is where non-tariff barriers become especially important. “People tend to focus on the tariff part of the paper – but most of the effect is driven by non-tariff barriers”, Shapiro tells us. Non-tariff barriers are mostly regulation, for example, the quality of a certain product. We can then say that non-tariff barriers are the very source of this environmental bias. Lobbyists love non-tariff barriers because, compared to tariffs, they are more specific, technical, and harder to analyse. Worst of all, the CBAM does not cover them, as it only tackles the differences in carbon price (or absence thereof) between the EU and non-EU countries. In other words, it focuses on the tariffs linked to greenhouse gas emissions, while the wider regulatory framework for carbon-heavy products is out of the picture.

Which industries benefit from this environmental bias of trade policy? All else equal, the biggest culprits are those closer to raw materials and further away from final consumption goods; firms that are located upstream in the production chain. For example, the EU imposes a non-tariff barrier on steel in the form of performance and quality standards. Steel is an upstream industry as many industries use steel as an input. The ideal scenario for firms operating downstream in the value chain – all the industries using steel as input – is for it to be as cheap as possible. Therefore these firms lobby for lower non-tariff barriers on steel: lower regulation, standards, and quotas. The further away a product is from final demand, the easier it is for lobbyists to push for changes on apparently small, boring, technical details, which greatly matter for the environment.

This ultimately means that even if CBAM forces non-EU states to step up their carbon price game, it is powerless in the face of all things non-tariffs barriers related to trade policy, hence propagating its environmental bias.

Lobbying over trade policy

Shapiro’s research shows that cross-border environmental policy needs to take the details of trade policy into account and the trade policy that matters the most is in the hands of lobbyists and concentrated on upstream industries. Due to the technicality of the trading bias, environmental stakeholders face a difficult challenge. Johanna Lehne of climate change think tank E3G explains that, while the dangers of fossil fuel subsidies are well understood, awareness of tariff and non-tariff issues is less widespread.

Closely linked to the degree of awareness are the challenges faced by environmental NGOs making their voices heard at the European level. This might unfold in a variety of fora – from contributing to impact assessments, bilateral lobbying, to responding to public consultations. Although equal access is offered to different stakeholders, not all actors have the same means to promote their views and ideas. Civil society organisations are “often much less well-resourced and have less capacity to engage on a huge number of different legislative files compared to industry lobbyists”, explains Lehne. “There is a power imbalance.”

Another aspect pertains to what different stakeholders bring to the European table. “As NGOs and civil society organisations, we have a certain role to play in terms of bringing in perspectives from the broader public. But what an industry player brings to the table, especially around the carbon market discussions, is a huge amount of data, and specific knowledge on relevant and oftentimes commercially sensitive technologies,” explains Lehne. The European Commission is particularly interested in accessing this form of information.

Looking at the CBAM and EU ETS reform, NGOs felt partially listened to. “Certain industry players won’t be happy with this free allocation timeline. Even though NGOs aren’t happy either, the Commission has made a compromise and they’re recognising the need to increase pressure on these sectors,” says Lehne.

The further away a product is from final demand, the easier it is for lobbyists to push for changes on apparently small, boring, technical details, which greatly matter for the environment.

The proposed legislation comes with weaknesses and strengths. What is commonly considered positive is the commitment to make the proposal compliant with the World Trade Organisation’s trade law, to avoid potential tit-for-tat retaliation. “Certainly, there will be some uncertainties on how to prove that carbon leakage is actually a problem as there isn’t an established methodology, or how to remove free credits for certain industries. But there isn’t clear discrimination against non-EU producers within the proposal”, explains Wilson. Another positive aspect is the presence of a pilot phase from 2023 to 2025, which will give trade partners time to adapt and allow for bilateral talks.

For some, however, the European objective to reduce carbon leakage was seen as an unfair political demand to increase climate ambitions in other countries. European aspirations of climate leadership can be interpreted as a violation of the principle of differentiated responsibility expressed in the Paris Agreement. “The proposal came out in a year that’s very critical for climate diplomacy at the international level.” says Johanna Lehne.

Another issue is that of winding down the free emissions allocations currently granted to European firms. “If you want to implement the CBAM, you have to cut the free allocation, otherwise you have double subsidies for the industries while all the foreign importers have to pay.”, comments Agnese Ruggiero, Carbon Market Watch. For Lehne, the proposal has been a “classic compromise that kind of annoys everyone”, presenting a 10-year timeline with phasing out 10 per cent of free allowances each year as CBAM phases in from 2026. From the perspective of many climate NGOs, this timeline is far too long, and it means extending free allocation into the 2030s. “It’s definitely something that we would want to shorten but having a phase-out timeline does give the industry a push and it definitely sets the direction of travel”, adds Lehne.

Another question that needs to be addressed is how to deal with modest climate goals by developing countries while respecting trade law and entering uncharted territories, like in the case of the voluntary initiative. “Let’s say, a steel producer in Russia is operating outside a policy framework comparable to the producers in the European Union but voluntarily takes measures to significantly reduce or progressively reduce its emissions footprint. Would they be subject to border adjustment?” asks Wilson.

What’s next for greening trade?

The proposal is now in the hands of the European Parliament and the Council to analyse, amend, and adopt. A first in-depth discussion on how this instrument would work was held at the beginning of September and the negotiations continue.

While the CBAM is a key first step towards eliminating carbon leakage and achieving thus decarbonisation globally, it does not touch those intricate rules of trade policy with their implicit incentives to trade in dirty goods. True decarbonisation and a sustainable and just form of globalisation will require a much broader reassessment of the rules governing international trade. Policymakers need to pay closer attention to how trade policy intersects with the environment through low-quality regulation and standards or unbalanced quotas, for example, and stakeholders need to understand the environmental bias of trade policy. While the reform of international trade governance is painstakingly slow, this time we will need rapid action.

Fair Trade or Feel Good?

The idea that fair trade labels will change the world economy is questionable. Often the main beneficiaries are not farmers in the Global South but Western consumers willing to pay for the gratification of ethical consumption. The fair trade movement started out with much greater ambitions to turn everyday exchanges into opportunities for political education and international solidarity. Ellen Mangnus traces the history of fair trade in the Netherlands to ask what it means today.

“No to Beet Sugar, Buy Cane Sugar, Aid and Trade”. This was the slogan on the banners being carried in The Hague towards the Binnenhof, the heart of the Dutch government. Photos of the demonstrations show men and women in thick coats. The sky was cloudy and it was freezing cold, but the activists were beaming with excitement.

On that day, 3 December 1968, they offered Prime Minister Joop den Uyl a heart made of cane sugar. It was the first step. The eyes of my good friend Hans Beerends sparkle when he tells the history of the Dutch “wereldwinkels” (fair trade shops). He shows me photos from his album. None of the activists had ever been outside Europe; the images of distant places and small sugar cane farmers reached them only in black and white. But they had all known hunger.

In the winter of 1944, in the hope of filling their screaming stomachs, many Dutch people had broke their fingernails digging in frozen garden soil in search of tubers and bulbs. In that year of famine they no longer dreamt about the future; their imagination extended no further than images of plates of meatballs with gravy. Once a month, they ate potatoes with peels donated by the HOKAM foundation (Help Our Children Get Meals).

They thus learned from an early age that hunger can drive people to folly, and that an empty stomach makes one susceptible to a sandwich filled with evil. At the end of the hunger year, they also learned that hunger was manmade: the liberation document had only just been signed when bags of pea flour and tins of cookies started falling from the sky. A gift from the liberators. Within a week, everyone in Holland had proper food again. It suddenly became clear to the activists – who were children at the time – that hunger was a war strategy, and that humans created hunger to eliminate their enemies, to assert their power.

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The Dutch activist Piet Reckman unmasked the mystery. He described in his book Riet, het verhaal van de suiker (Cane, the Story of Sugar) how thousands of South American farmers were starving because Europe refused to take their cane sugar. European countries levied import tariffs and provided plentiful subsidies to their farmers who grew sugar beets; Brazilian farmers could never compete with that. The poverty of farmers worldwide was a result of a deliberate attempt by the West to boycott cheap products from what was then called the Third World to support its own industry and agriculture.

Reckman took action: he began to sell cane sugar. People who were against this exploitation bought cane sugar rather than beet sugar. Sugar thus became a means for political struggle.

More than sugar

Soon it became about more than sugar: import tariffs were also levied on coffee, tea, cocoa and tobacco. The activists set up shops where they sold these products with a premium added. They offered their goods to ordinary citizens in squats, attic rooms and town halls. But the shops were more than simply points of sale: they were activist salons for gathering, devising political actions, and recruiting new fighters.

What they sold was not just a fair product, but a manifesto. The packet of sugar or coffee was the opening; what followed was a comprehensive story about discriminatory import barriers and agricultural subsidies. Customers did not leave the store without being informed about the logging of tropical forests by large soy exporters and the displacement of people and animals for the construction of banana plantations. They would never again be able to stir beet sugar into their tea without thinking about the suffering it represented elsewhere.

It suddenly became clear to the activists […] that hunger was a war strategy […]

In short, consumption was used to remind the unsuspecting citizen that hunger was a consequence of political choices. The goal of the activists was to create support for the abolition of tariff barriers and to make consumers part of the struggle for a fair trading system. The extra money paid for solidarity products was not intended for the farmers; it was donated to activist groups fighting for political justice on the ground. The activists maintained close ties with the People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola, student movements in Brazil, and the Revolutionary Left Movement in Chile.

No more time

But a turning point occurred somewhere in the 1980s. Not in the situation of those farmers; they were still being exploited. Nor in the unequal trade relations; the West steadily continued to build up its tariff barriers. No, it had to do with the consumers; they no longer had time for the long stories of the fair trade salespeople. Moreover, they wanted the guilders they spent to have a direct impact on the lives of the farmers. Where did this come from? Did consumers no longer believe in the power of the liberation movements? Or had they lost hope that a fair trading system would arise through politics? The French philosopher Jean-François Lyotard identified it as the end of “grand narratives”. Instead of one overarching guiding story, Lyotard saw a mosaic of micro-stories, small visions about human existence. People no longer believed in progress through class struggle. Welfare states were rapidly being dismantled, placing mountains of responsibility on everyone’s plate. Citizens resorted to changes that were within their power.

Activism became part of the system it once fought against. Fair trade was reduced to a better price […]

In 1988, the Max Havelaar quality label was launched. This label allowed coffee to be characterised as “fair” and made it possible for supermarkets to buy fair trade coffee. This fair coffee reached a wide audience; this was the first step in the transformation of the wereldwinkel fair trade shops. In the following years, Hans Beerends saw with regret how the policy changed from “sales as a means” to “maximum sales as a goal”. Activism became part of the system it once fought against. Fair trade was reduced to a better price, and the story of unfair trade relations was simplified to the anecdotes that customers wanted to hear: about how the fair trade products sold helped the farmer to set up a business or pay for his children’s schooling. Foreign farmers and craftsmen were again at the service of the western consumer.

Cultural capitalism

The Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek calls it cultural capitalism: the blending of doing good and capitalism. Charity is no longer simply putting money to good causes; today, doing good can be done while consuming. We buy shoes from a brand that donates a second pair to a child who has no shoes, and we drink coffee that also earns money for the farmer. This is hopeless, Žižek argues: nothing will change if the roots of this thoroughly rotten system are not removed. According to Žižek, the consumer benefits by feeling good through the illusion of contributing to a better world. However, he says, the opposite of a better world is the result, as the exploitative capitalist system is only perpetuated. This can be compared to the slave owners who took good care of their slaves instead of granting them rights. In this way, the slaveholders mainly prevented oppressed slaves from realising the injustice of their situations. For real progress, Žižek says, we must restructure society in such a way that political choices do not lead to hunger and poverty. Although he gives us little guidance on how to do that, he is certain that “fair consumption” will only get in the way.

“Fair Trade became Feel Good”. I copied this powerful title from an essay by former minister Jan Pronk in which he outlines what he thinks fair trade really means. “Trade is not only about what we import, but also about what we export”, he wrote. Fair trade calls for an end to arms exports to developing countries, to the global shipment of contaminated waste and the dumping of European agricultural products on African markets. Perhaps fair trade more often calls for “not consuming” rather than for sustainable consumption. According to Pronk, fair trade also means saying “no” to everything in conflict with it. For example, countering fishing by high-tech Western ships that displace local fishing along the coast of Africa, reducing greenhouse gas emissions that affect living systems in other countries, or fighting against the importation of blood diamonds and coltan from mines where slave labour takes place. For the Netherlands, fair trade therefore also means no longer acting as a tax haven. But more importantly: fair trade is about power relations. It is about intellectual property, and access to land, water, energy and natural resources.

As they knew in the “wereldwinkels”, fair trade is a long story. Fair trade requires political struggle.

This article was first published in Dutch by De Helling.

A New Geopolitics for the Anthropocene

The Anthropocene requires a fundamental rethink of humanity’s place in the Earth system. In the process, the traditional assumptions of geopolitics, with their premises of separate spaces and peoples in rivalry over scarce land, are superseded by a focus on producing flourishing ecologies as new peaceful habitats for humanity.

Geopolitics is a term with troubling historical connotations. Some of the most pernicious thinking of “classical geopolitics” suggested that environmental circumstances determine the character and conduct of states and their inhabitants, a series of arguments that were often used to justify European imperialism. A particularly dangerous strand of this thinking was the concept of “Lebensraum”, which strongly influenced Hitler’s policies after he attained power in 1933. According to this theory, the need for food production and access to other resources required states (Völker) to expand. If states fail to grow, they must inevitably be taken over by other more powerful ones. The racist and implicitly violent militaristic assumptions of this Geopolitik were rightly condemned after the collapse of the Third Reich.

In the years since the Second World War, the number of states has increased greatly, mostly as a result of decolonisation and national independence movements dismantling European empires. This runs contrary to the idea that states have to grow or die. Likewise, the assumption that more territory is essential for success has been proven wrong by the economic and political successes of various small countries, not least the European state of Luxembourg. Rapidly expanding trade, technical innovation, and, in particular, the expansion of industrial farming techniques have belied the assumption that more food production requires more land.

Much of the success of the European Union can be seen as a direct repudiation of the premises of Geopolitik. However, partly as a result of the climate difficulties caused by this fossil-fuel-powered progress, we are now living in an increasingly disrupted world in which the term “geopolitics” is once again being used to refer to the rivalry of great powers. While some of this usage is related to xenophobic nationalism and suggestions of separate homelands for national populations, the geography in all this is also cut across by economic trade relationships and military alliances. This complicates the picture. For we are now being forced to address some of the old questions about resources, environment, and conflict, but in a very different way from the classical geopolitical mode of thinking.

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In the Anthropocene

Today, it is the very success of the fossil-fuelled growth model that the Western world has followed since the Second World War that is at the heart of the difficulties that now need to be faced. The changes that this mode of economy have brought about are so immense that its increasingly recognised that we are living in a new period of earth history, the Anthropocene.

Where classical geopolitics speculated about how climates and environments shaped societies, culture, and hence politics, precisely the opposite processes are the key to the future in the Anthropocene. Human activities and the decisions currently being taken, mostly by the rich and powerful members of our species, will have profound consequences for the future climate of the planet. Climate is not determining the fate of particular peoples in specific places; instead, it is the rich and powerful among humanity who, by what they decide to invest in, build, and produce, will shape the future climate conditions for us all. This is the new reality of the Anthropocene: industrial activities are now a major force shaping the future of the planet.

Regardless of the trajectory humanity takes in the coming decades, these activities
will have very uneven consequences across the globe. Some societies will have an easier time of it than others, but it is clear that the future will be easier for most societies with a slower rate of climate change. Adapting to more extreme weather and less predictable conditions will be essential, but the more quickly the climate changes, the harder this will be. A rapid move away from fossil-fuel-based economic activity is imperative to slow climate change. But this will be especially difficult for states that are dependent on fossil fuel production for economic activity and state revenue. Petroleum producer states such as Saudi Arabia, for example, have been opposed to drastic action to deal with climate change.

A source of conflict?

A look to the future raises the question of whether climate disruption will cause conflict and whether this will feed into geopolitical rivalries. But a sole focus on this aspect of the discussion fails to grapple with the larger picture about what is causing climate change in the first place: the fossil-fuelled model of economic growth, the huge quantities of carbon that we are burning. This needs to remain our focus, not simply the possible symptoms of climate change, be it the extreme weather, tragedies such as the drought in Madagascar in 2021, or the political disruptions caused by numerous other natural disasters. If one concentrates on the cause of climate change within the fossil-fuelled global economy, then a second question arises: could attempts to deal with climate change also cause rapid economic change and induce conflict, and if so, where is this most likely to happen?

Much of the recent discussion around climate and conflict has looked at the first of these questions: whether climate disruption will cause insurrections, civil wars, violence, and other forms of insecurity that may be linked in some way to great power rivalries. In American thinking, it is widely believed that climate change will be disruptive and may in some cases trigger or at least exacerbate existing conflicts. There is an extended policy debate on “climate security” and the danger of climate as a “threat multiplier” in fragile states and regions vulnerable to political disruption.[1] While the social science research on this question is decidedly mixed, the case of Syria has been frequently cited as an example of what the future may hold. This argument suggests that drought in eastern Syria in the years prior to the civil
war caused agriculture to fail, leading to the displacement of numerous unemployed farm workers. Many of these people, so the argument goes, migrated to Syria’s cities, triggering social stress and protests, which in turn led to violent repression by the regime. The resulting resistance spiralled into civil war. Detailed research into the origins of the conflict suggests that the drought was at best a minor factor, and that politics and failed development strategies in eastern Syria better explain what resulted.

It is this existing order that is the threat to long-term environmental security.

Especially worrying is when the link between climate change and large- scale migration is made by xenophobic politicians. Images of refugees walking across eastern Europe in 2015, and of the bodies children who drowned while trying to make the journey across the Mediterranean, highlighted these perceived dangers. If people, when forced to move, are treated as threats rather than as human beings in need of assistance, then strategies of force, violence, and containment attract political attention. This framing is likely to make things worse rather than better, both for people and for the environments in which they live. As climate change accelerates, ecosystems as well as people will be on the move. Intelligent policies will recognise these new circumstances and act accordingly. Efforts to slow climate change are key to making this new situation easier to cope with, but there’s no doubt that change is upon us. Welcome to the Anthropocene.

To return to our second question: are attempts to deal with climate change likely to generate conflict? Much of the debate on this issue is speculative, as attempts to deal with climate change have not yet begun to seriously reduce the global production and use of fossil fuels.

Volatile commodity prices, of petroleum in particular, suggest that the repercussions of an overall rapid reduction in the use of fossil fuels might be severe. The dispute between Russia and Saudi Arabia over oil prices in mid-2020, amid economic disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, reinforce the point that petroleum is a central, but very contentious, aspect of international politics.

The energy transition must take place over the next decade if the rate of climate change is to be slowed sufficiently to make adaptation feasible. States that depend on fossil fuel revenues clearly need transition strategies to build new economies. Failure to cooperate internationally to facilitate these pathways may lead to state collapse, or conflict. The sad case of Venezuela in recent years may be a harbinger of the consequences of relying on petroleum revenues in rapidly changing times. Collapsing states and migration away from political disasters may trigger violence, and in the worst-case scenario, political elites may resort to military action in an attempt to stay in power. On the other hand, states that move rapidly to invest in new energy economies and spin-off industries may do well out of the transition.

The legacy of eco-violence

A look at the issues of energy, transition, and geography at the largest scale of global transformation suggests that the relationships between place, environment, and conflict – the principal themes of geopolitics – now need to be understood very differently. Much of the focus on security thinking is on the disruptions that climate change and climate policy may bring to the existing geopolitical order. However, it is important to circle back to emphasise the key point: it is this existing order that is the threat to long-term environmental security. Change is essential for future security. We must be able to adapt to unavoidable climate change while ensuring that societies can transition away from fossil fuels quickly and without the risk of social collapse and violence. In addition to endangering immediate human security, this would also very likely disrupt attempts to deal with climate change.

If vast quantities of carbon dioxide continue to be generated, the future seems likely to be much more violent.

Much of the history of the expansion of European and subsequently American power over the last 500 years has been violent. The conquest of the Americas involved massive loss of Indigenous life. The wealth brought to Europe – whether from the mines of Latin America or plantation agriculture producing tobacco, sugar cane, and most obviously cotton worked by slaves – involved both environmental devastation and the destruction of human life on an immense scale. These practices of extractivism continue at the colonial frontier of the contemporary global economy, as the deaths of environmentalists and Indigenous people who stand in the way of “development” sadly emphasise. The conversion of forests and rural areas into production units for the global economy is often a brutal business, and conventional conservation is frequently inadequate for both peoples and their places.

In the same way, the expansion of the global fossil-fuelled economy involves many violent processes, and most of those who suffer directly are distant from where its products are consumed. Now climate disasters are bringing this destruction home, as it were, to the cities of the Global North. Environmental insecurity is no longer a matter of disasters in distant places and political disruptions in the former colonies. The floods in Germany and Belgium in the summer of 2021, as well as the damage to eastern American cities from hurricanes and to large parts of California from fire and drought simultaneously, make this point clear.

Towards ecological security

While traditional notions of environmental protection remain valuable, we need to think much more explicitly about industrial activity and the economic forms that promote it, rather than simply protecting environments from the worst disruptions caused by changes in land use, wildlife habitat destruction, and pollution. Thinking of industrial humanity as a geological-scale change agent, which is what we have effectively become, requires a focus on what the rich and powerful parts of humanity produce. In the long run, Earth will work differently if we manufacture electric bicycles and solar panels rather than internal-combustion-powered private automobiles. If vast quantities of carbon dioxide continue to be generated, the future seems likely to be much more violent. Instead of concentrating on the short-term disruptions caused by disasters and the political disruptions that frequently go with them, we should adopt a long-term focus. This is key to thinking intelligently about ecological security.

A focus on ecological security – creating flourishing habitats, with permacultures, agroecology, and diverse landscapes as key goals of production – rather than engineering ever-larger concrete and asphalt structures or building fences to make migration even more difficult, promises a saner and more sustainable planetary future. Thinking of and planning in ecology as part of the human project in which we all live, rather than focusing on distant environments that are protected only insofar as they provide resources for consumption, is a very different formulation of what needs to be secured. The Anthropocene, which makes clear that old notions of humanity separate from an external environment are dangerously wrong, requires just these kinds of new thinking.

The key question is how investments in this ecological future are to be secured. Many fossil fuel divestment movements have started down this path, insisting that funds need to be put to productive rather than destructive uses and shape the future of the Earth system in ways that do not involve the burning of fossil fuels. The development banks that are finally phasing out investments in fossil infrastructure and coal-powered electricity generation also point the way. This investment push is much bigger than the still largely underdelivered green development funds that will supposedly be provided to states especially vulnerable to the impacts of climate change under the Paris Agreement.

Beyond that is the even bigger question of how central banks view their responsibility to initiate much greater transformations within finance. Kim Stanley Robinson’s recent novel The Ministry for the Future is fascinating here [read more in this interview] for its suggestion that “carbon quantitative easing” might be a new policy tool linking money supply to the reduction of carbon fuel use. If central bankers were able to understand the new conditions of the Anthropocene and act to ensure their states’ survival, regardless of the agendas of populist politicians, then financial policy could be dramatically different. The Ministry for the Future underlines the important role to be played by Europe in making such key changes.

Making a policy priority of regenerating ecological systems and transforming industrial activity in ways that transcend the nationalist chauvinisms, competitive political rivalries, and xenophobia that haunted earlier understandings of the relationships between peoples, places, and their ecologies is urgently needed.

Given the history of violence and disruption at the heart of old-fashioned European Geopolitik in the 20th century, it would indeed be fitting if Europe were to generate the new ecological thinking and the policies needed for a peaceful geopolitics in the 21st century.

The Road to a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty

Fossil fuels – coal, oil, and gas – are the single largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. Yet governments around the globe are on track to produce 120 per cent more than is compatible with the goals of the Paris Agreement. If those stocks are to be kept in the ground, an alternative approach is necessary.

The climate emergency is a “code red” threat to the world. But the main approach to climate policy – regulating end-use emissions through taxes and emissions trading – does not get to the source of the problem. The Paris Agreement does not even mention the F word: fossil fuels. The text from COP26 in Glasgow only refers limply to “inefficient fossil fuel subsidies” and a coal “phase down” rather than “phase out”. Enter a new approach: supply-side policy to limit the production and extraction of fossil fuels in the first place. The idea for a fossil fuel treaty surfaced on the 50th anniversary of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons in 2018. In view of the clear need to leave a large proportion of the world’s remaining fossil fuels unburned, the treaty’s three-pillar structure of non-proliferation, disarmament, and peaceful use provides a fair basis to work from: agree not to increase fossil fuel extraction (non-proliferation); agree a fair phase-out of existing infrastructures and investments (disarmament); and build an alternative low-carbon pathway (a just transition away from fossil fuels).

First proposed in the pages of The Guardian, the idea for a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty was quickly followed by a letter of support from activists such as Bill McKibben, Naomi Klein, British Green MP Caroline Lucas, and the heads of major NGOs such as Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth. From there, a global campaign developed, headed initially by Canadian activist Tzeporah Berman, which has now spawned a worldwide network of supporters and activists.

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Writing a fossil fuel treaty

What the treaty would look like has since been elaborated on further. The starting point would be a global registry of fossil fuel reserves. This registry would act as a precursor to phased and sequenced commitments not to expand the extraction of new fossil fuels and then to accelerate the phase-out of existing investments and infrastructures. A “first movers club” (already in motion) could move ahead with unilateral and then minilateral agreements to leave fossil fuels in the ground, encouraging others to join over time and providing incentives to do so. Importantly, such commitments could also be included under the nationally determined contributions (NDCs) that governments are already obliged to make under the Paris Agreement by quantifying the emissions saved by leaving carbon unburned. A new fossil fuel treaty, most likely under the umbrella of the United Nations, would complement the Paris climate regime by addressing the neglected supply side of climate policy and orchestrating a transparent and fair multilateral phase-out of fossil fuels which is not dealt with by current accords.

The goals and timeframes of the agreement would need to be guided by an international scientific assessment of the percentages of each fossil fuel that need to remain in the ground in line with commitments to keep warming below 1.5 degrees. Given uneven endowments among countries, a calculation of their financial value would have to be made in order to determine what degree of sacrifice each country is making for the common good and allocate commitments equitably. Negotiations towards a treaty would necessarily link across different fossil fuels based on these respective reserves. Some countries would leave more coal, oil, or gas in the ground depending on their reserves’ locations and value, as well as other countries’ targets.

Commitments would employ differentiated timetables for first halting and then phasing out fossil fuel production by countries. The allocation and sequencing of the phase-out would be determined by set criteria and principles. First, the costs of action should be borne disproportionately by those who have the greatest ability to pay, defined by per capita income levels, and that are best placed to redirect finance, production, and technology towards lower-carbon alternatives. Second, the greatest emitters of greenhouse gases generated by the direct burning of their own fossil fuel reserves should act first. Third, cumulative emissions should be assessed in order to take adequate account of historical responsibility and the use of fossil fuels to date.

A process based on rationality and solidarity

For reasons of historical responsibility and equity, richer, primarily OECD countries and the Russian Federation would need to move furthest and fastest. Many of the world’s largest and most powerful private fossil fuel companies are based in OECD countries. To ensure compliance and avoid emissions simply being moved from one place to another, fossil fuel assets held overseas by a country’s domestic companies would be subject to supply-side commitments. A second tier of “next mover” countries would be large non- OECD emitters such as China, India, Brazil, and Indonesia, all of whom belong to the top 10 global emitters who together account for nearly three-quarters of global emissions.

Support would then have to be provided to poorer developing countries with reserves of fossil fuels to fund the shift to renewable energy. According to the International Monetary Fund, global fossil fuel subsidies reached 10 million US dollars a minute in 2020. Redirecting these staggering sums in combination with public and private finance in the form of aid, export credits, and investments would fund low-carbon energy pathways. A global transition fund could support this under the umbrella of the treaty. As with other environmental

agreements, inducements such as exclusive market access could be provided to encourage parties to join, as well as disincentives in the form of border-tax adjustments on imports from countries not part of the treaty. This is something that the European Union has put forward as a climate policy lever: its proposed carbon border adjustment mechanism would apply import tariffs to goods entering the EU amounting to the EU carbon taxes applicable to equivalent production.

Why would fossil fuel producers sign up to such a treaty? The phasing out of fossil fuels is inevitable and already underway (albeit not progressing rapidly enough); such a multilateral initiative would coordinate the process more equitably. Orderly oversight with reporting and compliance measures can deter freeriding among major producers. Any treaty with this level of ambition will of course run up against opposition from some of the most powerful states and corporations in the global economy. Their power was again on display in Glasgow, as the final texts were watered down to allow for further loopholes and delay. But the costs of renewables are falling, and pressure from activists and the wider public is growing. Meanwhile, investors fear that their investments in fossil fuels will end up stranded. The writing is on the wall.

Building alliances

Several countries have already shown progressive leadership in leaving fossil fuels in the ground. The first attempt at a supply-side climate policy was adopted by Ecuador in its attempt to prevent oil extraction with its Yasuní-ITT Initiative. In 2007, the country’s government announced that it would not drill for oil in Yasuni National Park, a highly biodiverse Amazonian rainforest that is home to uncontacted Indigenous peoples, in return for compensation from donors. The landmark decision was unfortunately reversed in 2013 after sufficient funds failed to materialise, and in 2016 it was confirmed that drilling had begun.

This failed attempt was, however, followed by the announcement of bans on oil, gas, or coal exploration or extraction by a series of global “first movers”. Prominent members of this group include Denmark, France, and Spain, alongside Belize, Costa Rica, and New Zealand. France announced the phase-out of oil and gas exploration and production in December 2017. Belize then followed with a moratorium on all offshore oil activity. Denmark ended onshore oil and gas exploration in February 2018 and announced its oil and gas phase-out in 2020. New Zealand banned new offshore oil exploration licences in April 2018, as did Ireland in September 2019.

The phasing out of fossil fuels is inevitable; a multilateral initiative would coordinate the process more equitably

Former major coal producers such as the UK, Spain, and Germany have introduced phase-out policies, and some countries, such as Denmark, have moved rapidly from being major investors in oil and gas to leaders in renewables. This is captured most clearly in the reinvention of DONG (Danish Oil and Natural Gas) as Ørsted, now the world’s largest developer of offshore wind power. These countries are charting new terrain in climate policy that, if more widely adopted and developed into a global governance norm, could influence major producers.

Numerous European countries also belong to the Powering Past Coal Alliance, which aims to secure commitments from governments and the private sector to phase out existing unabated coal power and encourage a global moratorium on the construction of new unabated coal-fired power plants. Forty-one national governments, as well as cities and regions, businesses, and organisations, have signed up. Denmark is also a founding member of the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance that aims to encourage first-mover countries to go beyond both oil and gas. In Glasgow, France, Greenland, Ireland, Sweden, and Wales joined the alliance with New Zealand and Portugal as associate members. There is the potential for others to follow in their footsteps. Beyond Europe, 20 nationally elected officials from Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Pacific region launched a Parliamentarians’ Call for a Fossil Fuel Free Future calling for a global transition away from coal, oil, and gas. These include representatives from fossil-fuel-dependent countries such as Colombia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Rwanda, and the Philippines.

Growing momentum

Drawing on a fossil fuel cuts database, researchers from the University of British Columbia found that between 1988 and 2017, 1302 initiatives were implemented in 106 countries across seven major types of supply-side approaches.6 But while the number of initiatives has grown rapidly over the past decade, their adoption is highly uneven, underscoring the need for a multilateral framework to advance a more universal approach. Indeed, Pacific Island leaders have issued the Suva Declaration within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change calling on parties to initiate moratoria on fossil fuels, especially coal mining. Support for a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty has also been forthcoming from senior figures such as former Irish president Mary Robinson and over 100 former Nobel laureates. Even US Vice-President Kamala Harris has called for “a first-ever global negotiation of the cooperative managed decline of fossil fuel production.”

It is not just governments that are moving in this direction. Campaigns are increasingly aimed at phasing out fossil fuel finance deployed by multilateral development banks and bilateral donors, and governments’ use of export finance. Moves from the European Investment Bank to align with the Paris Agreement and commitments from the World Bank to withdraw financing from fossil fuels show these are having an effect. The Lofoten Declaration for a managed decline of fossil fuel production, drawn up in August 2017 and now signed by over 600 organisations in more than 70 countries from all over the world, puts this question front and centre.

Sub-state action might also have an important role to play. SAFE Cities is a growing network of cities, counties, and other communities (55 to date) that “Stand Against Fossil Fuel Expansion”, while a number of key cities including Vancouver, Barcelona, Toronto, Sydney, and Los Angeles have endorsed the call for a treaty to limit fossil fuels. There are also moratoria on fracking in place in hundreds of subnational jurisdictions, including in France, Germany, Ireland, and the United Kingdom.

Investors and corporations are also increasingly subject to divestment campaigns, boycotts, and shareholder pressure to withdraw support for new fossil fuel investments. Even ExxonMobil, long one of the most stalwart opponents of climate action, was defeated in a May 2021 shareholder vote by an activist investment firm demanding that the company accelerate its transition to clean energy.

The campaign for a fossil fuel treaty embodies key principles of green foreign policy

Enter the European Union?

The EU has both a duty and a responsibility to advance a fossil fuel treaty, as well as the means to do so. As members of the UN Security Council, France and the UK have a key role to play. As the birthplace of the industrial revolution and home to the powerful and globally connected City of London, the United Kingdom has a particularly significant responsibility.

Greens across Europe would be obvious backers of such a proposal. The Green candidate for the French presidency, Yannick Jadot, along with other leading French Greens, recently called for just such a non-proliferation treaty. The likely presence of Germany’s Green Party in government following the September 2021 federal elections provides another potential avenue for support. In Britain, Caroline Lucas MP has called for a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Bill. Cross-party alliances will be critical to the success of the bill, and there are supporters to be found among the ranks of Liberal Democrat, Labour, and Conservative MPs.

The campaign for a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty embodies key principles of Green foreign policy: peaceful disarmament, dealing with the root causes of ecological devastation by holding polluters to account, and a belief in internationalism and multilateralism. By channelling a growing tide of social pressure and non-violent direct action into global political action, this movement also helps to democratise and energise global governance, making it more responsive to citizen demands and directing it towards social and environmental protection rather than merely upholding an unsustainable global economy.

EU frameworks for delivering a just transition will also be critical to ensure that the rapid shift away from fossil fuels is minimally disruptive to workers, and that adequate retraining, compensation, and regional redevelopment programmes are in place. Their convening power can also make sure that trade unions and business associations are part of the discussion. There are important lessons to be learned from the transition away from coal in Germany, the Netherlands, and the UK. The EU can also use its power as an attractive trading and economic bloc and provider of aid and technical assistance to support lower carbon pathways overseas. It can use its presence at the United Nations, the World Bank, the World Trade Organization, and other fora to pressure for coordinated efforts to phase out fossil fuels and end privileged support for fossil fuel interests in agreements like the Energy Charter Treaty. If the EU really wants to live up to its claim to climate leadership, it should throw its weight behind the growing chorus calling for a treaty targeting the main cause of the climate crisis: the over-use of fossil fuels.

Climate Leadership Means Building Bridges

For climate negotiations to succeed, all the stars must align in a way that often appears impossible, so numerous are the obstacles and pitfalls. Building alliances and coalitions across cultural, economic, and geographical divides is crucial to any breakthrough. In this context, argues Robyn Eckersley, leadership becomes the delicate art of bringing various parties together to forge agreements that move the process forward, however incrementally.

Beatrice White: Global crises have heightened understanding of our interdependence, yet we also see growing discourses around regional and national autonomy. The trends are pulling in different directions. What is the state of play with multilateralism, and where might we be heading?

Robyn Eckersley: There are some interesting and conflicting trends. The international order is in a state of flux, with its liberal nature and stability in question. A multipolar order is always less stable than a bipolar one. We’ve been there before. In 1815, the Concert of Europe provided a period of stability,[1] but then things started to buckle later that century. What’s new today is a multilateral order in which two of the most significant powers are outside the West: China and India.

We certainly need reform in our global governance institutions. Institutions like the UN Security Council and the G7 are anachronistic and favour certain states in the West. These countries will need to elinquish some of their privileges and powers if the institutions are to maintain legitimacy. We also see China and the BRICS[2] countries developing their own financial and lending institutions. However, the UN General Assembly remains crucial to developing countries as they are the majority and it’s one vote one state, whereas in the Bretton Woods institutions like the International Monetary Fund it’s one vote per dollar. If I had to bet, my money would be on the growth of more regionalism, rather than larger or more concerted multilateralism.

What kind of changes does the current global governance framework need?

There needs to be more effort to green the institutions of economic governance, and more effort by major powers to green their economies. At the WTO [World Trade Organization], ministers are currently working on a declaration on trade and climate change. But they are likely to focus on the easy synergies and ignore the deep contradictions. The WTO does not require international trade to be sustainable, and it is premised on a continually expanding international economy. Neither the WTO’s trade agreements nor preferential trade agreements require the internalisation of the negative ecological externalities associated with trade. Unless we see the great powers like the US and China start to bring ecology and not just climate into their grand strategies, we’re in trouble.

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The carbon border adjustment mechanism that the EU is putting in place is a good development because it will impose a carbon price on carbon-intensive exports from recalcitrant countries like Australia, which repealed its carbon pricing mechanism in 2014. Under the climate regime’s burden-sharing principles of differentiated responsibilities, developed countries are supposed to take the lead in mitigation while assisting developing countries. In effect, one might argue that the EU mechanism forces a carbon price on exports from developed countries that have failed to take the lead in mitigation and would steal an unfair competitive advantage over those who have made an effort. However, it seems contrary to these burden-sharing principles to impose the same price on exports from developing countries. At the very least, the additional charge should be collected by the EU and recycled back to the country of origin to assist in their decarbonised development.

How do you assess the development of global climate and environmental governance? Did the Paris Agreement mark a turning point?

From the start, we knew the journey was going to be hard. Whatever agreement was negotiated, if it didn’t have all the major emitters present then it would not be effective. For all of the US’s faults, President Barack Obama understood that. He appeared to have a very weak hand, with a hostile congress, but he played it well domestically and engaged in diplomacy that eventually got China and India on board. The idea of nationally determined contributions (NDCs) came from the US, who knew that China and India would not accept legally binding commitments and that the US Senate might be prepared to accept a new agreement with this kind of flexibility. Of course, this flexibility worried the most vulnerable countries. Thanks to the leadership of the late, great Tony de Brum, the foreign minister of the Marshall Islands, working with the EU, a High Ambition Coalition was formed, which demanded that a global rise in temperature be limited to 1.5 degrees in the agreement, among a range of other things.

The grand bargain of Paris was flexibility for the major emitters. To give the vulnerable countries something back, we got a more ambitious temperature target and, thanks to the EU, some very hard procedural language that stated that each successive NDC will be more ambitious than the previous one (but with a non-punitive review – thanks to China’s strenuous negotiation).

Unlikely coalitions that cross traditional political boundaries are very valuable

I thought, at the time, it was a historic breakthrough because we couldn’t really expect more. But the very presence of a durable climate agreement with a more ambitious temperature target of 1.5 degrees is working some magic in driving governments, business, financial institutions, and international organisations to try harder. Plus, environmental NGOs can point to the target to hold governments to account to at all levels.

So that’s where we’ve landed. Will this be good enough? It is certainly not optimal. There have been many compromises, but we have to make the treaty we have work. In the current context, the 1.5-degree target appears as the one light on the hill, thanks to the High Ambition Coalition. As a result of this success, we’re seeing similar coalitions forming in the biodiversity negotiations that are taking place. The beauty of this coalition in Paris was that it cut across those stale, well-worn negotiating groups which are either in the Global South or the Global North. What we need now are more coalitions that bridge this divide, bringing the relative leaders like the EU and vulnerable states together.

So coalitions with ambition are crucial. But these do not necessarily form organically. What is climate leadership? How would you evaluate the EU as a climate leader?

I distinguish between two types of leadership. One is just being a frontrunner in a field of performance. Australia is a frontrunner in global fossil fuel exports; it’s a leader in that sense, but it’s not something we’re very proud of. China is a leader in producing solar panels, just like it’s a leader in financing coal, but that is fortunately changing. In a performance field, frontrunners can be cooperative or competitive. They might be trying to compete at the expense of others, or they could be leading because they actually want to set an example. This type of performance or directional leadership can feed into the second kind of leadership, which is political leadership. This entails building support around a common goal and enabling collective action. It often starts by building a like-minded coalition of the willing.

The EU’s finest diplomatic moment was at COP17 in Durban in 2011, where it played a key political leadership role in brokering a new roadmap and building support through a promise of performance leadership. Here the EU agreed to a second commitment period (2013-2020) under the Kyoto Protocol in return for the major emitters in the developing world agreeing to negotiate a new roadmap.

The 1.5-degree tempreature target of the Paris Agreement appears as the one light on the hill

This broke the deadlock. Kyoto was so important to developing countries because that was their interpretation of common but differentiated responsibilities: “Why should we do anything until the rich countries have demonstrated their leadership in mitigation?” Bridging those differences was really important and got us to Paris.

So despite not always showing a great performance – especially under the earlier iterations of its emissions trading scheme – the EU has shown directional leadership. The EU has committed to an enhanced 2030 target of cutting emissions by 55 per cent and has dedicated 30 per cent of its budget to climate action. It is also contributing around a quarter of the 100 billion dollars that will be mobilised annually up to 2025. But the EU cannot solve this problem by itself, and it will need to muster all of its diplomatic skills to develop a productive relationship with China to accelerate the decarbonisation of the biggest emitter of all.

What is the likelihood of other major powers stepping up to the plate?

There’s always been a lot of bad faith by both the US and China. Obama showed his commitment to the common purpose by engaging in active climate diplomacy at Paris. But the US has walked away twice from the climate regime, first with the second Bush administration’s repudiation of the Kyoto Protocol and second with the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement. China has made much of this sorry record and highlighted how the US has contributed the lion’s share of historical emissions. Yet China is the biggest aggregate emitter (since around 2007) and the world’s second-biggest historical emitter. China keeps hiding behind its poor and ignoring its rapidly growing middle class, which is bigger than the total US population. China’s average per capita emissions are now higher than the EU’s but still lower than the US’s giant yeti carbon footprint and big military carbon boot-print.

However, one promising idea that China has developed – and maybe it’s just empty rhetoric – is the idea of ecological civilisation. Given that climate change is a civilisational challenge, I love the term. “Let’s build an ecological civilisation.” China meant it purely for domestic consumption and it’s not trying to proselytise, but we should congratulate China for working with that idea and use it as a form of track-two diplomacy by building cooperation between citizens and universities and organisations, but also diplomatically at a very high level.

Non-state actors, such as civil society groups and the worldwide movements and networks of people calling for climate action, are also involved in this process. How significant are these forces?

Absolutely crucial! The failure of Copenhagen[3] created a new generation of anti-fossil fuel movements such as Keep It In The Ground, driven by organisations like 350.org and figures such as Bill McKibben. The whole idea of a carbon budget was born then, as well as the idea of un-burnable carbon. These are powerful concepts for campaigning and crunching numbers, and climate think tanks such as Climate Action Tracker and Climate Analytics have been providing critical analysis and guidance for developing countries, particularly small-island developing nations. Non-state actors have demonstrated incredible innovation and brainpower, and they’re mobilising across all levels of society and governance, from cities and municipalities to businesses and organisations.

Then you’ve got Fridays for Future with the school strikes and Extinction Rebellion. These are wonderful developments, born out of frustration with inadequate action nationally. The climate emergency frame plays a significant role in galvanising declarations and enhanced commitments.

Your work contrasts an inclusive multilateralism, which aspires to get everyone around the table, with exclusive “minilateralism”, where smaller groups of countries reach agreements to move forward together. There is often a dilemma in foreign affairs between insisting on the principles of equity and solidarity as a pre-condition to any engagement or adopting a pragmatic attitude to make progress in any configuration that allows for it. What is your advice?

Both inclusive multilateralism and exclusive minilateralism have their problems. The former is too slow and can lead to the lowest common denominator. The latter is simply unfair and self-serving if confined to the major emitters. It’s like putting the foxes in charge of the hen house. More promising is inclusive minilateralism that includes representation from the most responsible, the most capable, and the most vulnerable. This ensures a diverse range of views and is more representative, while the smaller size can facilitate a deeper discussion and trust-building. Agreements reached in forums of this kind can also be scaled up.

Unlikely coalitions that cross traditional political boundaries are very valuable, particularly at the national level. If climate NGOs can find other organisations with at least some common interests – discovered via careful “back channel” diplomacy – then this can be the basis for campaigns with wider political reach. This might include faith groups, social welfare groups, unions, farmers’ groups, and certain industry associations. Building looser and broader, cross-cutting coalitions is an important development, not just in decarbonisation but in building ecologically sustainable economies more generally. It can depolarise. You’ll find that folks on the other side of the divide don’t have horns; that they’re real people who have real concerns that must be respectfully acknowledged and taken on board.

Taking a longer view, is the move away from fossil fuels good news for the international system?

If you think of some of the terrible events that have happened during the 20th century, many were about oil. Think of the OPEC [Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries] oil embargo of 1973 to 1974 that sent the price of oil sky-high. And why did the US decide to establish a military command centre in the Middle East after the 1979 Iranian Revolution if not for concerns about access to oil? The Iran-Iraq War and the first and second Gulf Wars also had much to do with oil. A lot of blood has been spilt and treasure wasted over securing access to oil. Once the world is hooked on renewable energy, countries will enjoy much greater energy independence. We know some countries may not be able to be fully independent, but with developments in battery storage and the green hydrogen revolution – which might be over-hyped but will have a role – we can take a lot of that out of the equation. Gazprom won’t be holding the EU to ransom in a cold winter, for instance. That’s going to create a lot more energy independence, relative to the last century, and a lot less blackmail, price gouging, and military conflict.

Renewable energy is such a good news story on so many grounds, but it is very important that we assist developing countries in building their own capability, and I do worry about who will control the lithium, cobalt, and rare earths that will feed the renewable energy revolution.

[1] The Concert of Europe was a general consensus between the Great Powers of Europe (Austria, Prussia, Russia, the UK, and later France) which acted to ensure the European balance of power from the fall of Napoleon to the outbreak of the First World War.

[2] BRICS is the acronym coined to associate five major emerging economies: Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa.

[3] COP15 in 2009 was widely recognised as a failure, as the negotiations concluded without a fair, ambitious, or legally binding treaty to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Understanding the New Silk Roads of Energy

European plans for a “Global Gateway” initiative to fund infrastructure around the world, and the commitment of the G7 countries to a similar programme, are Western responses to almost a decade of Chinese international investment via the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). More than a tool to gain influence or boost trade, the BRI is a means to achieve social and economic security in China. This vast and ambitious project underlines three essential geopolitical points for the 21st century: access to energy is key, technology is a source of power, and points of interconnection are more important than ever.

After coming to power in 2013, Chinese president Xi Jinping soon looked to respond to Barack Obama’s “pivot to Asia” and take advantage of the West’s economic slump in the years following 2008. The Chinese president developed a threefold plan: strengthen ties between Beijing and its immediate neighbours to bring peace to the borders and push American influence out of Asia; provide outlets for Chinese overproduction; and secure the many strategic routes to and from China while rebalancing its development. The new Silk Roads were born.

The plan was officially announced in September 2013 in a speech delivered in Nur-Sultan (formerly Astana, Kazakhstan). Invoking the spirit of the ancient caravans which once crossed central Asia, President Xi proposed a strategic partnership between China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan, consisting of major investments in roads, railways, and energy infrastructure. A month later, President Xi proposed strengthening ties between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) through the development of the “21st Century Maritime Silk Road Initiative”.[1] It was not until March 2015 that the National Development and Reform Commission published materials on the initiative, emphasising its “win-win” approach, under the official title: One Belt, One Road. This name was quickly abandoned and replaced by Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) to capture the fact that, far from being about one road, the project was about an entire network.

Breathing new life into China’s underdeveloped western provinces is a fundamental goal of the new Silk Roads.[2] Xinjiang, the cornerstone of the BRI, is set to become a major energy hub, serving as the gateway for hydrocarbons from central Asia. Situated 3000 kilometres west of Beijing, the region covers an area of 1.6 million square kilometres and is made up of vast desert basins bordered by high mountains. Historically, this region was not part of the Han Chinese sphere of influence and its inhabitants are Turkic-speaking Uyghurs. Uyghur aspirations for greater autonomy for Xinjiang have met with a brutal response from the Communist government. The harsh measures employed include forced sinicisation, involuntary sterilisation, and internment camps.

Xinjiang is set to become a major energy hub, serving as the gateway for hydrocarbons from central Asia

Mapping the silk roads

The vast BRI network stretches across Eurasia and has branches in Africa, the Americas, and even the Arctic. Because China regularly changes the participating routes according to its political agenda, they are difficult to list accurately. Some countries have also pulled out of the project. Australia, for example, left in April 2021 due to concerns about Chinese espionage and political corruption.[3]

Nevertheless, certain routes are critically important for Beijing. The Xi’an-Duisburg route follows the path of the ancient roads, passing from Xinjiang through Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Iran, and Turkey to carry manufactured products destined for Europe, as well as raw materials and energy to China.

Central Asia is the heart of the project, for both energy security and geopolitical reasons and there are branches across the region, including into Russia, Pakistan, and south Asian countries sympathetic to China such as Bangladesh, Myanmar, Laos, and Cambodia. At sea, the Venice-Shanghai corridor is key, linking Athens, Djibouti, Gwadar (Pakistan), and Hambantota (Sri Lanka) along the way.

All roads lead to the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. Sharing its borders with eight countries – Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, India, Mongolia, Pakistan, Russia, and Tajikistan – the region is the ideal gateway for Chinese influence in central Asia. Since the 1990s, China has built multiple border crossings and has integrated the Chinese and Kazakh rail networks. “Dual cities” such as Horgos (China) /Khorgos (Kazakhstan) that straddle the Chinese-Kazakh border are essential to this strategy.

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These new corridors aim to redefine the world order by creating a “string of pearls”, a series of home ports (both maritime and dry) that can receive Chinese goods and double as potential forward bases for business interests and the military.[4] So as not to alarm its partners, the construction of these infrastructure projects is delegated to arms-length, state-owned companies such as the China Communications Construction Company.

Between 2013 and 2015, around 60 countries were involved in the BRI. By 2020, there were nearly 130. China would like to bring as many countries as possible into the fold, but a few partners are central: Pakistan, Kazakhstan, and Myanmar.

Pakistan has pride of place in the initiative. In 2015, 46 billion dollars were allocated to create an economic corridor between the port of Gwadar and Kashgar in Southern Xinjiang. The deep-water port of Gwadar is strategic in more ways than one. A Pakistani military base grants China a certain stability and could eventually allow the People’s Liberation Army to set up an outpost. Close to the Gulf of Oman, it is ideally located to bring hydrocarbons from the Middle East into China. A liquified natural gas terminal will allow both imports from Qatar and the liquefaction of Iranian gas; a refinery combined with an oil pipeline will send crude to Xinjiang.

Due to its vast hydrocarbon resources, Kazakhstan accounts for more than 70 per cent of Chinese investments in central Asia.[5] The Kazakh economy is primarily based on the export of gas and oil, of which it has 3 per cent of world resources, as well as uranium, of which it holds 12 per cent of world resources. Several oil and gas pipelines run through this immense country, which has one of the world’s lowest population densities.

Myanmar is an additional source of energy security for China. The opening of a corridor between the port of Sittwe in Myanmar and Kunming in China has diversified China’s energy routes. Beijing has also established a presence on Myanmar’s Coco Islands in the north-eastern Bay of Bengal. In 1992, it constructed an electronic intelligence-gathering station on Great Coco Island to monitor maritime traffic off the coast of India’s Andaman Islands around 20 kilometres away. There are also plans to build a military base on neighbouring Little Coco Island. Following recent turmoil, the situation in Myanmar is being closely monitored by China; a restored dictatorship would allow Beijing to regain control and brush aside US and Japanese influence.

The quest for energy

The strong economic growth that has characterised China for decades has rested on a sharp increase in energy demand, reinforced by artificially suppressed prices. Due to a lack of oil and gas resources despite the country’s vast size, coal is China’s primary source of electricity. While the country has abundant coal deposits, these are largely located far from urban centres, in Xinjiang, Shanxi, and Inner Mongolia. This factor, coupled with environmental and health considerations, low productivity, and supply shortfalls, has meant that Beijing has imported coal on a massive scale since 2009 (304 million tonnes in 2020).[6]

The Communist regime’s continued existence is based on a social pact that depends on strong growth. In its quest for survival, the party spares no expense in maintaining energy-intensive industries such as cement, steel, and glass. This explains the proliferation of excessive and often irrational infrastructure projects. Ensuring a constant energy supply for industry is therefore of utmost importance.

The communist regime’s continued existence is based on a social pact that depends on strong grwoth

While the pharaonic BRI is generally presented as a means to allay overproduction, its geostrategic energy dimension is vital, in particular because current energy routes depend on a few choke points. The tricky passage through the Strait of Malacca, for example, lies in an area plagued by piracy, while US ally Singapore is situated at the strait’s southern end. In the event of a conflict with the United States, a blockade of Malaysia and the Sunda Strait could paralyse China.

Energy imports into Xinjiang via central Asia are therefore key to the BRI. More than anything, Beijing wants to secure an oil pipeline that runs from Atasu in Kazakhstan to Alashankou in China. Already in place, the crucial pipeline linking Turkmenistan to Shanghai through Horgos allows China to receive 55 billion cubic metres of natural gas from Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan every year. Via the BRI, this energy route spreads to the four corners of central Asia. The resulting energy corridor is 9000 kilometres long, running from the Caspian Sea to the Chinese coast.

Greening the silk roads

Renewables also have a place in the BRI, but in a different form than fossil resources. While China hopes to secure incoming energy supplies, it is also keen to send advanced, particularly green, technology the other way.

A scientific power for many centuries, China experienced a long period of stagnation in the modern era. This began to change in the 1970s, when technological development became a key reform objective. The requirement that foreign companies operating in China establish joint ventures with local partners massively strengthened China’s role as a source of innovation. President Hu Jintao (2003-13) was the first Chinese leader to pursue an explicit national innovation policy. Xi Jinping’s subsequent Made in China 2025 plan, issued in 2015, aims to put the country at the forefront of high-tech sectors globally, especially green and digital technologies.

Since signing the Paris Agreement in June 2017, and even more so after Donald Trump’s withdrawal, China has positioned itself as an environmental champion. On 22 September 2020, President Xi unilaterally pledged that China would reach carbon neutrality by 2060, followed one year later to the day by an announcement promising to end investment in coal plants abroad and to “step up support for other developing countries in developing green and low-carbon energy”.[7] In addition to increasing market share in a booming, high-value-added industry, this stance is designed to force the West to choose between human rights and cooperation on climate. China’s dominance in the rare earth metals industry, with 90 per cent of global production in 2016 and processing capacity equivalent to 75 per cent of global demand, is a powerful asset in this regard.[8]

In this context, the idea of encouraging a “green” BRI that would allow China to export its low-carbon technologies is gaining ground. China has already succeeded in creating leading international firms in the environmental sector, in the fields of wind power, batteries, and photovoltaics in particular. Now that the market is developed, the new Silk Roads are destined to become conduits for green energy technologies to flow from China to the rest of the world. More than a dozen projects are underway in Pakistan, including renewable power plants such as the HydroChina Dawood Wind Power Project east of Karachi.

Politics intrudes

Despite its strengths and the unwavering support of Beijing, the BRI project has many weaknesses that risk undermining the entire strategy. The first, and no doubt most dangerous, is China itself, or rather the version of the country it portrays on the international stage.

Since Xi Jinping came to power, China’s traditional restraint has gone in a completely different direction, known as “wolf warrior diplomacy”. In the hope of promotion, Chinese diplomats compete to demonstrate their nationalist fervour and no longer hesitate to attack critics of the People’s Republic. Although this strategy is designed to pander to the Chinese population, its consequences outside China can be very damaging. Polling conducted by the Pew Research Center in 14 countries in 2020 showed that 74 per cent of respondents have a negative view of the People’s Republic.[8]

The consequences of this diplomacy are also felt in China itself. In April 2020, Australia publicly requested an investigation into the origins of Covid- 19. China retaliated by stopping imports of Australian coal, causing power cuts in winter when production could not meet demand. As a result, China was forced to increase imports from Pakistan. However, Islamabad did not have the capacity to meet Chinese demand. So, in turn, Pakistan began to import more from Australia, only to sell it on to China. More broadly, growing distrust could undermine the BRI’s key objective of exporting green technologies to Europe.

Loss of sovereignty is also a concern for emerging economies. The Sri Lankan port of Hambantota on the Pakistan-China route cost about 350 million dollars to build, funded almost exclusively by the Export-Import Bank of China. But its disproportionate size and inability to compete with the thriving port of Colombo meant that profits were insufficient, forcing Sri Lanka to open debt restructuring negotiations with China. Beijing wiped the slate clean in exchange for a 99-year lease on the port, starting in July 2017. As early as 2018, the International Monetary Fund warned against Chinese loans, as their interest rates of up to 7 per cent are often unsustainable.[9]

Europeans are divided on the issue. Both Greece, with Piraeus, and Italy, with the ports of Genoa and Trieste, are dependent on Chinese investment and have joined the BRI. Northern Europe, and Germany in particular, is wary of criticising Beijing because of its economic dependence on exports to China. France, ordinarily cautious, was forced to break its silence after multiple provocations by the Chinese embassy in Paris around cultural and academic freedoms.

Any analysis must also reckon with China’s “sublime isolation”. The Middle Kingdom dreams of being a hyperpower but lacks allies. Relations with Russia are erratic. Both countries want to overthrow the post-war international order and share certain ideological similarities, but they are also rivals. China’s push into central Asia encroaches on a region traditionally beholden to Moscow. In 2015, Russia had just launched the Eurasian Economic Union, comprising Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Armenia, and Kyrgyzstan, when Vladimir Putin announced that this union would join the new Silk Roads. Behind its adherence to the BRI, Russia is acting to maintain its influence, for example by proposing to China that Moscow guarantee the security of central Asia.

Few countries share a real ideological affinity with China. Vietnam partially cut its ties with its powerful neighbour after the 1979 China- Vietnam war and is not interested in the BRI or Chinese loans. North Korea is seen as an unpredictable but indispensable protectorate that secures China’s north-eastern border. While its coal mines feed Chinese industry, the extreme weaknesses of North Korean production and infrastructure make it a bottom-rank trade partner. While China accounts for 83 per cent of North Korean exports, that represents a turnover of only 2.8 billion dollars. North Korean GDP is estimated to be 1.5 per cent of that of its southern neighbour.

Other states close to China are driven by strictly economic, national, or personal interests. The recent shifts in the stances of the Solomon Islands and Kiribati, which broke off diplomatic relations with the Republic of China (Taiwan) to recognise the People’s Republic, were motivated by Beijing’s largesse. While China may be getting stronger, its soft power remains weak. Despite all of President Xi’s efforts, the “Chinese dream” is having trouble scaling the Great Wall.

A further complicating factor is that the weight of the Communist Party and its bureaucratic “cliques” that fight for influence impedes decision-making. The hunt for political enemies, under the pretext of fighting corruption, leads to instability in key ministries. Above all, appointments are made based on loyalty to Xi rather than qualifications. Once more in this initiative, China is its own worst enemy.

Finally, the companies – officially private but in reality backed by the state – that invest along these energy routes are anxious to receive subsidies. They are eager to enter into projects to stay well regarded in Beijing, even if it means defying rules of good management. The new Silk Roads, and especially their energy component, require a great deal of capital. Building ports, oil pipelines, and refineries is expensive. The level of investment needed is estimated to be between a massive 4000 billion and an astronomical 26,000 billion dollars.

Beijing’s attempts at attracting foreign investors are mostly met with polite refusal as enormous infrastructure projects are not highly profitable and the countries targeted unstable, while China itself is cloaked in secrecy. A first slowdown in financing can already be seen: from 150 billion dollars in annual lending in 2014 to 2015, the figure dropped to below 100 billion dollars in 2017 and 2018.[10]

Japan, a traditional ally of the United States who maintains good relations with India but whose relationship with China is not uncomplicated, has expressed its opposition to the new Silk Roads. In 2015, Tokyo unveiled its Indo-Pacific strategy in partnership with the Asian Development Bank. Based on liberal values, the heart of this 100-billion-dollar “Partnership for Quality Infrastructure” is energy. Tokyo hopes that Japanese companies, through public-private partnerships in Asian and African countries, will increase their electrical production capacity, mainly in geothermal energy. By 2019, the project’s funds had nearly doubled to 200 billion dollars.[11] Japan emphasises the high quality of its technological expertise and infrastructure to set itself apart from a still unappealing “Made in China”. In 2017, Japan’s former Prime Minister Abe and Indian Prime Minister Modi inaugurated the first high-speed rail line in India, with 80 per cent Japanese financing.

The new Silk Roads are critical to China’s strategy of independence and growth. Beijing hopes to diversify its energy supply sources while increasing its regional and global influence. Part of this is about breaking the post-war liberal order. While China has the means to bring this project to fruition, it faces many challenges. Costly financing, concerned partners, political blunders, and the implementation of rival projects all risk hampering the rebirth of the Silk Roads.

This is an abridged version of an article first published by GREEN (Géopolitique, Réseau, Énergie, Environnement, Nature).

[1] ASEAN brings together 10 countries: Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.

[2] Éric de La Maisonneuve (2018). “« Une ceinture, une route » ou le versant chinois de la mondialisation »”. Revue Défense Nationale, 810(2018/5), pp. 81-88.

[3] Emmanuel Véron & Emmanuel Lincot (2021). “L’Australie face à la Chine : la montée des tensions”, The Conversation. 18 March 2021.

[4] Kevin Merigot (2019). “ ‘Collier de perles’ et bases à usage logistique dual”. Geostrategia. 7 February 2019.

[5] Alain Cariou (2018). “Les corridors centrasiatiques des nouvelles routes de la soie : un nouveau destin continental pour la Chine”. L’Espace géographique 47(1), pp. 19-34.

[6] “China’s coal consumption seen rising in 2021, imports steady”. Reuters. 3 March 2021.

[7] Vincent Ni (2021). “‘Betting on a low-carbon future’: why China is ending foreign coal investment”. The Guardian. 22 September 2021.

[8] Laura Silver, Kat Delvin & Christine Huang (2020). “Unfavorable Views of China Reach Historic Highs in Many Countries”. Pew Research Center. 6 October 2020.

[9] Speech by Christine Lagarde in Beijing in the framework of the forum “New Silk Roads”, April 2018. See also: Florine Maureau (2021). “Le piège de la dette chinois se referme sur les intérêts français”. Portail de l’Intelligence Économique. 25 March 2021.

[10] Data from RWR Advisory Group’s The Belt and Road Monitor website.

[11] Julie Babin (2019). “La Stratégie Indo-Pacifique libre et ouverte, un contre-projet japonais aux Nouvelles routes de la soie ?”. Groupe d’études et de recherche sur l’Asie contemporaine. September 2019.

The Limits of Europe’s Corporate-Led Hydrogen Project

What would it mean to fulfil the promises of hydrogen replacing fossil fuels in Europe? Beyond the inflated expectations, there are important geopolitical implications that are not being seriously considered within democratic debate. The complicity of current hydrogen policies with the corporate powers of the energy sectors and the expansion of the frontiers of extraction both within and outside Europe risk making hydrogen a further step into colonial and expansionist capitalism rather than a tool to overcome it.

Anyone following climate and energy news will have noticed the hydrogen boom. Optimistic outlooks and projections – usually referring to tropes like “the most abundant element in the universe” or “the energy of the future” – circulate in online events, political debates, and technical reports trying to find an emergency exit to the twilight of fossil fuels. But neither hydrogen itself (a synthetic fuel) nor the promise of a “green hydrogen” produced with renewable energy are recent technological breakthroughs. Hydrogen has a long history of being the “next big thing”. The first wave of interest followed the oil price shocks of the 1970s; another came in the wake of incipient concerns for climate change in the 1990s.

Hydrogen and its surrounding technological ecosystem come with a series of serious concerns that cast doubt on its possible global role as a bread-and-butter fuel. First, the renewable energy infrastructure needed to produce green hydrogen has enormous material requirements. It will require intensified mining for rare earth minerals and other metals such as copper; such processes have already destroyed entire ecosystems. The Latin American Observatory of Environmental Conflicts has reported on the dangers of opening up new frontiers of extraction. Second, the promotion of hydrogen is closely associated with industries with doubtful sustainability credentials, such as natural gas and carbon capture.

This time, though, something seems different. Hydrogen is a clear winner in the rush of post-pandemic proposals. “Kick-starting a clean hydrogen economy in Europe” is at the heart of the European Union’s Next Generation plan for its recovery in the wake of Covid-19, announced in 2020. The implications of the EU setting this objective have already triggered rapid geopolitical movements at a transcontinental level.

In Chile, the idea of becoming a green hydrogen world leader was seized upon aggressively throughout 2020. The proposal for Chile’s green hydrogen strategy released in June 2020 posits Chile as the world-leading, export-oriented producer by 2030. The country’s main advantage, ministers and business people argue, is its huge potential for renewable energy generation. The oft-repeated suggestion that Chile could become the “Saudi Arabia of renewables” promises economic success to whoever gets on board.

Who will buy these tons of “made in Chile” hydrogen? Europe provides the technical, political, and economic backdrop to this drive, a “safe” engine committed to climate action under the banner of hydrogen and offering a rush of foreign investment.

The winner and losers of hydrogen-powered Europe

On 8 July 2020, the European Commission presented its hydrogen strategy, a vision and road map for the role of hydrogen in the EU economy. In a document highly influenced by industry and fossil fuel lobbyists – represented by the organisation Hydrogen Europe – hydrogen is framed as a “key priority” to decarbonise hard-to-abate industries such as steel or chemical sectors while keeping them competitive in the global landscape.

Currently, the vast majority of hydrogen is produced by fossil fuels, with no CO2 abatement (i.e. removing the emissions from the atmosphere, generally through carbon capture and storage). So-called “blue hydrogen” is created by treating natural gas in a process known as “steam methane reforming”. The European Commission’s hydrogen strategy embraces the combination of this process with carbon capture and storage as a key element of the “transitional phase” towards decarbonising the economy, before green hydrogen – produced using renewable electricity – can take over.

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Research assessing the full-cycle emissions of blue hydrogen production has studied the material consequences of this transitional phase, pointing out how the use of natural gas in the carbon capture process will create large amounts of fugitive methane emissions. The authors conclude that blue hydrogen is “best viewed as a distraction”, a safe line for industry and fossil fuel companies looking to lock in carbon-intensive processes and entrench gas infrastructure for years to come.

Irrespective of whether the intention of using gas as a purely transitional fuel is genuine, the approach has a fundamental flaw. As the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has found, countries across the world lack the ambition, pace, and scope to meet climate targets. In other words, there will just not be enough renewable energy to meet this extra demand.

The EU hydrogen strategy envisions scaling up hydrogen production by outsourcing it to countries outside the EU. It endorses Hydrogen Europe’s “2x40GW Green Hydrogen Initiative” that calls for ramping up electrolyser capacity to 40 gigawatts in Europe and 40 gigawatts in Europe’s neighbourhood. By way of “re-designing Europe’s energy partnerships”, green hydrogen imports will grow, mainly from North Africa and Ukraine as well as countries such as Chile and Australia. Europe’s technological innovation advantage on electrolysers technology will thus be used to obtain green hydrogen via bilateral agreements with regions with high renewable energy potential. As a result, renewable energy projects in countries aiming to become world-class hydrogen exporters are proliferating, in turn, triggering processes of land and resource appropriation.

In early 2021, the Chilean Ministry of Energy and the Port of Rotterdam signed a memorandum of understanding regarding the country’s future green hydrogen exports to Europe. The European Investment Bank signed an advisory agreement in July 2020 with Hydrogen Europe to provide advisory and technical support and financing, cementing the corporate dream of public guarantees for their investment in breakthrough technologies. In Africa, the European Commission is looking for partners to produce green hydrogen for European industry under the Africa-EU Green Energy Initiative. Germany and Namibia recently closed a green hydrogen partnership. According to Germany’s then-federal research minister Anja Karliczek, Namibia has “large, so far unused areas”, an indication of the persistent extractivist and productivist approaches to resource use driven by aggressive profit-seeking.

The sense of political urgency that this flurry of partnerships betrays can only be understood in geopolitical terms. From the European Commission side, there is a geopolitically motivated race to position the EU as a “maker” rather than a “taker” of technological breakthroughs such as electrolysers. Securing the euro’s place as a benchmark currency for transactions in hydrogen would consolidate its international role. From the perspective of industry, the nature of investment cycles in the energy sector – lasting over 25 years – makes for an urgent case for investing now to maintain a long-term strategic advantage. Corporate and geopolitical interests are thus aligned. Only the prevailing approach based on attracting and de-risking private investment can determine what is politically possible.

With the climate crisis rapidly unfolding, unless these underlying logics can be challenged and subordinated to the needs of people and planet, the European Commission will be making stubborn efforts to remain competitive in an uninhabitable world.

The real price of hydrogen

What is at stake in Chile’s ambitious hydrogen plans? As it all comes down to generating cheap renewable energy, the technology to make this possible and the foreign investment to make this feasible must be attracted to the country. Chile’s right-wing government, led by the conservative Sebastián Piñera, has insisted that the proper role of the state in this race is to provide the right investment conditions – or, as it is formulated in Chile, certeza jurídica (legal certainty) – so that capitalism can deliver its promises of painless technological cheapening. The focus on certainty for investors is not casual: it is a not-so-subtle reference to Chile’s ongoing constituent process and social upheaval that, since October 2019, has aimed to dismantle the structures and institutions still in place decades after Augusto Pinochet’s neoliberal dictatorship. For, in a process endorsed by a 2020 referendum, the Chilean people are redrafting the country’s constitution.

The demands of grassroots movements and Indigenous communities to defend their territories from invasive energy projects are essential elements of the process. Emblematic demands such as taking water out of private ownership and the rights of nature also make capital owners fear new legal tools that may offer a means of resistance against their projects. The Chilean Commission for Human Rights,

Truth, Justice, and Reparations has detailed the intimate relation between mining, ecocide, and the violation of Indigenous rights. A significant proportion of the convention’s representatives are from grassroots environmental movements. While coal-based and hydroelectric projects have faced most resistance, voices are warning of similar practices in projects such as wind farms in southern Chile, where protests have surged against threats to delicate ecosystems and first nation’s rights. For those betting on hydrogen, no political revolution can get in the way of the industry’s rise. The first experimental plant in Magallanes will open in 2022, deaf to the changes that the new constitution could soon introduce.

The uncomfortable truth of the expansion of the frontiers of extraction is that “cheapening” any resource is never a simple and smooth matter of technological improvement. Things must be actively cheapened. The fantastic expansion of energy generation – there are plans to build the hydrogen equivalent of Chile’s entire existing central electric capacity within nine years – depends on expanding energy generation and transmission, often in territories in the process of reclamation by Indigenous peoples and already strongly affected by previous extractive waves.

The European people and their needs are strikingly missing from discussions about sovereignty

Corporate or popular sovereignty?

The term “strategic sovereignty” has been put forward by the European institutions as the capacity to act autonomously, relying on one’s own resources in key strategic areas and to cooperate with partners whenever needed. The development of Europe’s hydrogen strategy shows that the devil is in the details when zooming into the specifics behind this idea of sovereignty. Who has the capacity to act autonomously? Relying on one’s own resources for what purposes? To cooperate under which conditions?

The energy transition makes mineral supply chains a key strategic area of the economy. In the case of mining, infrastructure and labour costs, along with environmental legislation and the dramatic reduction in shipping costs, have resulted in Europe relying on raw materials mined elsewhere. Under the banner of strategic sovereignty, the EU is changing the regulatory framework for mineral extraction to spur the opening of new mines and prospecting projects within Europe. As part of the same political project, hydrogen will only exacerbate these dynamics of newer “internal” frontiers of extraction.

The European Commission’s New Industrial Strategy for Europe concentrates on energy-intensive industries at the heart of the European economy. Specifically, steel production is a centrepiece of Europe’s search for autonomy and sovereignty, lying “at the heart of the twin green and digital transition”. The end of coal as a key ingredient for steel production implies its substitution by electricity and hydrogen. The long-lasting capital assets of the steel industry pit the European strategy against the clock in the race for “green” steel production, while hydrogen is put at the centre as a resource capable of aligning industry, energy companies, and governments to maintain the growth-oriented status quo and, therefore, Europe’s competitiveness in the global landscape.

One could fairly ask whose competitiveness is being taken care of here while 50 million people in the EU cannot afford to heat their homes. The problem with European strategic sovereignty is defining who is sovereign in a sovereign Europe. The European people and their direct needs are strikingly missing from high-level discussions about sovereignty. They are not the only ones. The transnational processes triggered by Europe’s search for autonomy call for broader inclusion of all those affected by the transition. Of course, steel will be necessary for the transition: it is essential for wind turbines, for one thing. But questions such as “How much steel do we need?” and “For what?” are essential to ground the discussions around European sovereignty.

The democratic deficit engrained in European policy-making runs parallel to the private-profit-inclined nature of its funding schemes. Since the hydrogen strategy is embedded in the funding mechanisms of the European Green Deal, public money will be used to de-risk private investment. The danger is that public money will put hydrogen innovations and their economic benefits in the hands of private investors, instead of public institutions or communities. Under these regulations, the development of decarbonisation technologies will not spill over to benefit the European people, but will entrench inequalities and power imbalances within Europe as well as between Europe and other countries and regions.

Hydrogen’s appeal rests on broader political ground. While some policy objectives point at absolute limits on energy consumption (such as the EU energy efficiency targets), it is not clear how this reduction will materialise without significant changes to our sociotechnical infrastructure. The lifestyles that many people in Europe take for granted were cemented in “high energy modernity”, that short period during which the fossil fuels that provide us cheap energy were flowing freely. What is not under discussion are alternative visions of how society – or Europe – could be re-organised and which values should be prioritised. According to these assumptions, there is no way to de-escalate our high-energy civilisation in a democratically – self-limited, autonomous – way. Expansion is the only (often left implicit) desirable horizon, a necessity, and an inevitability. Through this lens, planetary boundaries become a challenge to circumvent through technological improvement. In the words of the UK government’s plans for a green industrial revolution, there will be “no change in experience for domestic consumers”. The discussion is reduced to how to ensure autonomy while remaining economically competitive. This is the imaginary we believe must be challenged.

Fairtrade regulations offer possibilities known to capitalism. Any attempt to create a just market for hydrogen has a clear starting point: the challenges that exist when building renewable energy infrastructure. Hydrogen will inevitably put more pressure on them. Regulations should have zero tolerance for “green grabbing” (incursions on Indigenous peoples’ autonomy and rights) and the overlooking of the so-called externalities that are usually left out of environmental impact assessment processes.

New circuits of certification and standards might ameliorate (significantly, if we are optimistic) the most harmful consequences of expanding the frontiers of energy extraction. But more importantly, we need to assess fair trade mechanisms critically as only one element of a wider ecosystem of measures on the road to energy democracy. Fairtrade has been criticised for focusing too much on what happens at the point of exchange, eluding the questions of what is produced, for whom, and for sustaining what kinds of life. No trade regulation can remove the need to face these deeper political questions.

Such political possibility falls within the terrain opened up by the post-growth and degrowth communities; degrowth in energy consumption not as a choice for individual consumers but as a rearrangement of our shared social infrastructure. It will be possible to tame hydrogen under this political and ethical horizon of justice only if we transform our energy systems to allow all lives to flourish. Then, hydrogen might have more to offer to Europe and the world than its current pharaonic dreams. Energy cooperatives and networks of associations, groups, and citizens like the Network for Energy Sovereignty in Catalonia are tangible alternatives to build public-community energy governance and democratise energy production, distribution, and consumption.

Harnessing hydrogen as a transformative tool will demand more conversations on sufficiency, absolute limits beyond efficiency improvements, and the democratisation and redistribution of the corporate-captured political power to subordinate energy to projects of shared prosperity.

Europe’s Energy Transition: Ukraine’s Salvation?

As the European Union steps up its energy transition Ukraine is being forced to accelerate its plans at the risk of damaging its rapprochement with Brussels. The inauguration of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline could add to the pressure being piled on Kyiv by its neighbours in the region. However, Ukraine has been offered the chance of a major role in the production of Europe’s green hydrogen. Decisions about the EU’s energy future have geopolitical consequences that extend well beyond its borders.

In Western Ukraine, in Galicia, lies the small town of Staryi Sambir. Nestled at the foot of the mountains, this town marks the end of the great Ukrainian plain and the beginning of the Carpathians. The Dniester, which rises close to the town and winds its way to the Black Sea, carves out a valley whose two sides overlook the town. It is on these heights that the first – and for the moment, the only – wind turbines in all of western Ukraine have been installed: three in 2015, then six more in 2017. Their blades turn peacefully amid wheat fields just 20 kilometres from the Polish border, as if signalling to the neighbouring European Union.

The EU has been paying increased attention to its Ukrainian neighbour for some years now and sees it as an important partner in the energy transition. As Europe’s second-largest country, Ukraine has great potential for the development of all types of renewables. The signing of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement in 2014 marked an important step in Kyiv’s commitment to green energy. The share of renewables in the Ukrainian energy mix subsequently jumped from 4 per cent to more than 11 per cent by 2021. In 2019 alone, more than 3.7 billion euros were invested in the sector. Currently, the main renewable source is hydroelectric power, which accounts for 8 per cent of the energy mix. The remaining 3 per cent comes primarily from solar power, which is spread throughout the country. For now, the potential of wind energy remains largely untapped.

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President Volodymyr Zelensky has restated Ukraine’s climate ambitions and its desire to move in concert with Brussels. “Ukraine is seeking to align its climate policy and legislation with the European Green Deal, he said at the 2020 Climate Ambition Summit. In April 2021, deputy energy minister Yuriy Boyko even announced that Ukraine was on track to meet its target of 25 per cent renewable energy by 2030, five years ahead of the original target date. However, there seems to be a disjuncture between the Ukrainian government’s words and its actions on the ground. While Brussels insists on the need for a “green” recovery, Kyiv has gone back on a number of projects since 2020 and has even redirected its aid towards fossil fuels. The main measure here is an exceptional aid package of around 1.2 billion US dollars to Naftogaz, the energy giant fully owned by the Ukrainian state. It aims to keep gas prices, which are exploding all over the world, below the market price. Gas is an important part of the energy mix, making up around 28 per cent, and is largely imported from Russia. The country is also heavily dependent on coal, which accounts for around 30 per cent of total energy consumption and is also primarily of Russian origin.

Beyond the potential geopolitical challenges implied by Ukraine’s dependence on Russian raw materials, Brussels cannot afford to have polluting neighbours. One of the major challenges of the European energy transition and the objective of carbon neutrality by 2050 is to avoid the carbon leakage effect, whereby emissions reductions are accompanied by the transfer of carbon-emitting activities outside Europe. But while EU member states struggle to agree on exactly how the Green Deal will work – notably the place of gas and nuclear – can the EU still hope to have enough influence on its Ukrainian partner to guide it in its energy transition?

An atmosphere of mistrust

The last few years have shown a clear willingness on Kyiv’s part to meet the requirements of the association agreement and European standards, thanks to the various options offered by the EU. In particular, Ukraine has been a member of the Energy Community – an organisation that aims to create a unified energy market among EU members and some neighbouring states – since 2011. Following the Russian annexation of Crimea and the outbreak of the conflict in the Donbas in 2014, the EU also revived the process of integrating the European and Ukrainian electricity grids. In 2023, a step forward will be made with Ukraine’s synchronisation with the European network ENTSO-E. Ukraine will then be able to import and export its electricity to and from EU member states. Above all, this connection means a separation from the former Soviet grid, which Ukraine still shares with Russia and Belarus.

However, the completion and probable opening of the Nord Stream 2 (NS2) gas pipeline puts a question mark over Ukraine’s rapprochement with Europe. The debate surrounding the construction of this pipeline reveals how the Ukrainian energy issue is inextricably linked to geopolitics, and to the relationships that the EU wishes to maintain with both Kyiv and Moscow. The pipeline, constructed by Russian energy giant Gazprom, bypasses Ukraine through the Baltic Sea. It received its final go-ahead in August 2021 after an agreement was reached between Washington and Berlin. The situation has cast a pall over relations between Europe and Kyiv. Despite Berlin’s assurance that Ukraine will be supported if Moscow uses the pipeline for geopolitical purposes, as well as the announcement of the financing of a billion-dollar “green fund” to contribute to Ukraine’s energy transition, Kyiv remains sceptical.

Kyiv is seeking to strengthen its partnership with the EU and its member states to avoid adding energy isolation to its geopolitical isolation. 

A key reason for Ukraine’s distrust is that it will lose out on the substantial transit revenues paid by Moscow once the current contract with Gazprom expires in 2024. “The Ukrainian distributor received 1.66 billion US dollars in transit fees in 2020. As soon as the gas no longer passes through Ukraine, the projects declared by Berlin and Washington will hardly be able to replace this windfall,” explains Olena Pavlenko, President of DiXi Group, a Kyiv think tank specialising in energy issues. Above all, however, Kyiv sees the completion of NS2 as a serious geopolitical threat. “The biggest risk posed by the completion of NS2 for Ukraine is the loss of a form of guarantee against any new Russian aggression since Russia would no longer be afraid of losing the European market by attacking Ukraine. No compensatory mechanism, including Germany’s willingness to finance a green fund, can address this risk,” explains Anton Zorkin, director of energy at the Better Regulation Delivery Office (BRDO) in Kyiv. In other words, more than the financial losses caused by NS2, it is the heightened military threat that worries Ukrainian decision-makers.

A complex regional picture

Ukraine’s geopolitical and geo-economic challenges are not limited to its eastern neighbour. To the north, Belarus, with its highly developed capacity for refining crude oil from Russia, is Ukraine’s main supplier of hydrocarbons, providing more than two-thirds of Ukraine’s diesel needs. In addition to the authoritarian nature of Belarus’s government, made clear by its violent repression of the protests arising from the 2020 elections, Lukashenko’s regime is accused of waging a “hybrid war” against Lithuania and Poland while moving ever closer to Moscow. Ukraine’s dilemma is clear: it must try to maintain good relations with its neighbour to continue benefiting from cheap hydrocarbons while conforming to the EU’s wish to isolate Minsk internationally.

In the south, a dispute is threatening relations with Moldova, a traditional ally of Kyiv and a partner of the EU. Since 2016, the Ukrainian authorities have been planning to build six new hydroelectric power plants on the Dniester River, which also irrigates Moldova, where it is one of the country’s main sources of water. For Ukraine, the river is also an important source of energy. It supplies the largest hydroelectric power station in Europe, located in Novodnistrovsk, which the local authorities would like to expand. Many experts warn that the construction of additional dams could cause environmental damage downstream or even the silting of the Dniester, which could drastically reduce the quantity of water released into Moldova. For the moment, the slow pace of construction and the ongoing negotiations between Kyiv and Chisinau are keeping the problem in check. But this proffers a reminder that even the development of renewable energies in Ukraine is not exempt from potential disputes between the country and its neighbours.

To the west, tensions with Viktor Orbán’s Hungary have persisted since the introduction of a 2017 law stopping secondary school teaching in ethnic minority languages including Hungarian. Orbán’s government saw the move as an attack on the Hungarian minority living in Transcarpathia. This grievance is now combined with a pronounced Russophilia in Budapest, which has joined Moscow’s plan to bypass Ukraine. This strategy does not only have a northern dimension: in the south, TurkStream also transports Russian gas to Europe, this time via Turkey, Bulgaria, and Serbia, and has been connected to Hungary since 1 October 2021. At a time when gas prices are skyrocketing around the world, Budapest has negotiated a 15-year contract with an advantageous option for a 10-year price freeze. Kyiv has not hidden its “surprise” and “disappointment” and says that it will ask the European Commission to examine the legality of the move.

Making partnership a priority

Under these circumstances, Kyiv is seeking to strengthen its partnership with the EU and its member states to avoid adding energy isolation to its geopolitical isolation. As compensation for NS2, Brussels seems to have offered a credible avenue that could help bring Ukraine closer to the EU. In July 2020, as the details of the European Green Deal were being laid out, the Commission published a strategic hydrogen roadmap which highlighted the need to involve the EU’s international partners in green hydrogen production. There are plans for half of the EU’s hydrogen needs to be sourced from neighbours and partners. Ukraine “in particular” is listed as a priority partner. Under such a system, Ukraine could export up to 8 gigawatts to the European market by 2030, or nearly one-eighth of the EU’s needs. Since green hydrogen is produced with electricity generated from renewables, the production of this precious gas in line with the requirements of the Green Deal could shift the Ukrainian energy sector towards an increasing use of renewable sources. For Andreas Umland, a research associate at the Swedish Institute of International Affairs, this partnership forms part of “a trend that will – and should – continue, in order to both protect Ukraine’s importance as a geopolitical player in eastern Europe, and to match the expected further rapid growth of green energy demand in Europe.”

The Ukrainian government wasted little time in responding to this opportunity. In July 2021, President Zelensky approved a directive of the National Security and Defense Council aimed at “neutralising threats in the energy sector”, which includes plans to build a hydrogen-capable EU-Ukraine pipeline network. In August 2021, a memorandum of understanding on cooperation along the green hydrogen value chain was signed between Germany’s RWE and Ukraine’s Naftogaz. And September 2021 saw the launch of the Central European Hydrogen Corridor initiative, which brings together four gas suppliers from Czechia, Germany, Slovakia, and Ukraine to organise the future transport of hydrogen from the east into the heart of Europe. The beginnings of a partnership are taking shape, one which Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba considers to be “a very serious tool for Ukraine with a view to its European integration”. He goes as far as to say that “the challenge of developing hydrogen in Ukraine is not just about energy. It is a major European political project that can radically change the balance of power on the European continent. In the long term, if Ukraine seizes its chance, it could take the place that Russia currently occupies as a gas supplier.”

To fully understand the stakes of the energy transition in the region, we must not ignore the elephant in the room: nuclear power. 

Becoming a green hydrogen supplier to Europe, and primarily to Germany, would not be without its drawbacks. First, Ukraine may itself soon need large quantities of locally produced hydrogen to replace the coal used by the steel industry. Second, there is a risk that exporting electricity to the EU at high prices in the form of hydrogen will increase the price of electricity on the Ukrainian market. Third, the development of green hydrogen is still in the planning stages, and Ukraine will have to invest considerable sums to renovate its electricity network, improve its energy efficiency – the worst in Europe – and above all develop its renewables. For many experts, this need for funding makes the loss of transit fees due to NS2 all the more regrettable.” The energy transition, in Ukraine and elsewhere, is a long process. In the short term, it involves a shift from coal to gas. Only after the complete abandonment of coal can we begin to consider the replacement of gas by renewable energy. Nord Stream 2 is therefore far from being a good reason to embark on the energy transition, since its construction contradicts all of Ukraine’s interests while strengthening Russian influence,” says Anton Zorkin.

Chain reactions

To fully understand the stakes of the energy transition in the region, we cannot ignore the elephant in the room: nuclear power. Decisions over its future will have important consequences in Ukraine. With just over half of the country’s electricity produced by nuclear power, the Ukrainian government is seeking to modernise and even expand its network of ageing Soviet-era plants. If nuclear power were recognised as a form of renewable energy and therefore eligible for subsidies under the European Green Deal, Ukraine could potentially receive European funds to finance the renovation of its power plants. Europe could support Ukraine’s energy transition while promoting the country’s energy independence, thus helping secure this part of Europe’s neighbourhood.

However, as the EU has still not decided on the role to be played by nuclear power within the energy transition, Kyiv has turned to other partners, primarily the United States. At the end of August 2021, Zelensky visited Washington, D.C. for several days, an invitation largely due to the American agreement authorising the completion of Nord Stream 2. Over several meetings, the Ukrainian operator Energoatom signed a cooperation agreement with American nuclear power company Westinghouse for the development of new-generation reactors in Ukraine.

The energy debate illustrates the geopolitical significance and the material consequences of the decisions taken by Brussels, especially for a neighbour and partner such as Ukraine. This is yet another reminder for the EU, if one were needed, that its influence goes beyond “normative power” and that it has decisive geopolitical weight. With the European Green Deal and the energy transition, the EU has the potential to guide Ukraine in its quest for energy independence, and to anchor its neighbour geopolitically in the years to come. It is now up to both parties to live up to their commitments.

A Geopolitical Europe Starts with Social Policy

The word “geopolitics” conjures up images of a world whose time has passed, of generals and diplomats sliding chess-like pieces across maps. That is not to say that power relations have disappeared. The great powers, Europe included, are vying for leverage in more areas than ever. But it cannot be a top-down project. Any attempt at a geopolitical vision for Europe needs to start with social justice and democracy.

The European institutions have committed themselves to a concept known as “open strategic autonomy”. Broadly defined, this refers to the European Union’s ability to act using its own resources and reduce its dependencies on other parts of the world. It is one of the key elements promoted by the European institutions as part of Europe’s recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic. In a changing global context, achieving “open strategic autonomy” is the European Commission’s strategy for Europe to become a key global actor.

The pandemic has extended the understanding of geopolitics to include new areas such as technology and health. However, this understanding has still not stretched far enough. Any geopolitical vision for the European Union ultimately rests on European societies. To be effective, open strategic autonomy should go beyond conventional geopolitical considerations to incorporate socioeconomic dimensions as well as environmental realities. Policies determined at the highest levels can affect people’s lives very tangibly and very rapidly. A geopolitical Europe that overlooks the social dimension risks generating resentment and may lead to a public backlash.

The backdrop to strategy autonomy

For a long time, “strategic autonomy” was mainly used in military and foreign policy contexts to refer to the ability of a state to act alone in matters of national security and strategic importance. Today, global geopolitics are increasingly complex. Issues such as climate policies intersect with other areas in a continuously evolving geoeconomic context characterised by competition between the two leading global actors, the United States and China. Over time, the concept of strategic autonomy was thus enlarged to include areas such as technological development and economic interests.

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Then came Covid-19. This was not only a severe public health crisis; the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns shook the economic and social fundamentals of societies across the globe. In Europe, the crisis exposed a series of vulnerabilities, revealing the European Union’s dependence on other countries in areas of strategic importance. Disruptions in the production and supply of critical goods such as face masks or inputs such as drug precursors produced in India and China left European health systems lacking in the crisis. The concept of open strategic autonomy has been developed to ensure that Europe is better prepared for future crises. Its primary objective is a Europe that is more resilient in the face of challenges, while the prefix “open” is intended to indicate that the EU remains committed to multilateral relations with like-minded partners.

Social policies in an interconnected world

In today’s context, it is increasingly accepted that different policies are intertwined. Trade policy, for example, is no longer isolated from climate policy; in theory, at least, the two are expected to work together.

The energy transition is a clear example of this interconnection. Faced with climate change and environmental degradation, the green transition requires the transformation of Europe’s energy system. This process will involve disruptive changes in how energy is both produced and consumed. As high-carbon sources of energy are phased out, energy costs will rise. The scarcity of certain resources such as rare earth minerals and carbon taxes will further drive up costs. In the coming decades, energy prices will stabilise and eventually fall with the increased availability of cleaner and cheaper renewable sources. In the meantime, however, energy bills are set to rise and more people could find themselves in energy poverty.

Industrial development, investment in skills, and the creation of decent jobs go hand in hand

In other words, the decarbonisation pathways that a more autonomous and sustainable Europe needs to follow will come with a social cost. Changing dependencies on energy sources will impact energy imports and trade. Without reinforced social protection throughout the green transition, deteriorating socioeconomic conditions could generate public opposition. The yellow vest movement in France was triggered by a rise in fuel prices due to a new carbon tax, adding to an accumulation of existing financial challenges faced by middle and lower-income households. The fear of a similar social reaction seems to be present in the thinking of some policy-makers, who have recognised that society needs to be carried along if there is to be a credible just transition.

Socioeconomic conditions are inseparable from energy policies, which are inseparable from trade relations, which are inseparable from geopolitical dynamics, which are inseparable from the control of critical raw materials and resources. Welcome to a world in which (almost) everything is interconnected.

The strategic side of social policy

Given their many connections across different policy areas, initiatives to enhance Europe’s open strategic autonomy can hardly be separated from their social and economic implications. However, social policy remains an under-discussed aspect of the debate when, in fact, it should be intrinsic to it.

Reducing Europe’s dependence on other parts of the world involves (re-) developing strategic sectors and industries and potentially includes reshoring critical production lines back to Europe. Reinforced investment in critical skills is central to this effort. Investing in people and their know-how is of utmost importance for a Europe wishing to boost innovation and stay competitive during the twin transitions of digitalisation and sustainability, particularly if it aims to become a global leader in strategic industries.

According to forecasts from the European vocational training centre (Cedefop), Europe faces skills shortages in occupations including the digital industries, scientific research, healthcare, and teaching. Examples include the growing demand for sustainable architects in Italy, and the Europe-wide demand for workers with specialised skills driven by the development of the electric car industry. Needless to say, in order to identify and invest in the right skills for future jobs, coordination with education and training systems is key. If the European Union has determined that nanotechnology and the production of semiconductors are essential to its strategic autonomy, then equipping people with the specific skills needed is equally important. Industrial development, investment in skills, and the creation of decent jobs go hand in hand.

Demographic projections suggest that Europe’s population will increase slightly until 2026, after which a decline will set in that will last until 2100 and likely beyond. A combination of longer life expectancies, declining birth rates, and migratory flows indicate a demographic picture characterised by a shrinking workforce. Existing labour shortages are likely to be exacerbated in the coming decades, especially in some critical sectors and particularly for the European regions already suffering from depopulation. According to a study by the EU agency for the improvement of living and working conditions (Eurofound), countries such as Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, and the Netherlands are facing unmet labour demand in the digital sectors. The pandemic will worsen the overall situation; sectors such as construction are facing particular difficulties. These demographic trends raise questions about Europe’s ability to fill in jobs in critical sectors. Active and healthy ageing policies for the elderly are one way to address these issues. However, raising the pension age, which varies widely across the EU, can quickly become a contentious issue, especially in some countries.

Citizens should be able to have their say on issues that will strongly impact their economic activities as well as their everyday lives. 

In this context, focusing on youth policy is an important step that could have a decisive effect on the prosperity of Europe over the next decades. Reducing the proportion of young people who are neither in education nor employment, and supporting their transition into the labour market, may help avoid the bitter experience of the 2008 financial crisis that scarred the careers of many young people for years afterwards. The European Commission has indicated that it will invest more in young people through a new mobility programme entitled ALMA (Aim, Learn, Master, Achieve) to help young people find work abroad. While promoting youth mobility is a smart idea as the success of the Erasmus programmes shows, the scheme should go beyond proposing temporary work experience abroad. Curbing the particularly high levels of youth unemployment faced by some European countries and regions should be a priority.

Furthermore, younger people are increasingly aware of the climate emergency and wider environmental challenges, urging politicians to push for environmental protection and increase efforts to mitigate and adapt to climate change. The sustainability of Europe’s strategic autonomy in relation to climate politics therefore also depends on the support of the next generation.

A crucial aspect of the social side of strategic autonomy relates to just and fair transitions in the face of climate change and digitalisation. The green transition is a key prerequisite for Europe’s strategic autonomy because it can reduce external dependencies around energy and scarce resources. At the same time, it will have unequal distributional impacts, with adverse employment effects on the economic sectors faced with restructuring. Countries will have different experiences of the twin transitions depending on their existing economic and industrial structures, as well as their relative access to raw materials. Potential job losses require careful management to ensure that transition is a fair process for everyone. Social partners need to be involved to a greater extent, at all levels, to make sure that workers are accompanied and supported during all stages of the transitions. Failure to do so risks deepening inequalities, increasing polarisation, and turning the public against disruptive green policies – and may well undermine strategic autonomy.

To ensure fair and just transitions towards a carbon-neutral economy, additional funds will be needed to support the sectors most heavily dependent on carbon-intensive processes. As part of the Fit for 55 package, the European Commission has proposed
a Social Climate Fund on top of existing just transition funds to help citizens finance investments in energy efficiency and cleaner mobility solutions. Whether this will be enough to ensure a just transition remains to be seen.

The way ahead

The European strategic autonomy debate is set to continue in the years ahead. With France taking over the EU presidency in 2022, open strategic autonomy will likely become even more central to the European political discourse. French disappointment at being cut out of the Aukus military pact between the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia, and losing out on a lucrative nuclear submarine contract with Australia as a result, will only reinforce this trend. The Aukus affair has shaken the image of a Europe able to maintain its independence and influence in the face of other geopolitical actors.

While the geopolitical context is constantly evolving, one thing is clear: citizens must be front and centre on the path towards strategic autonomy. All initiatives put forward should include citizen engagement and offer support, for instance with job seeking or in the area of education and training. Expectations should be managed early on, and transparency about the proposed impact of the policies under discussion – including an explanation of the trade-offs – will be essential. Socioeconomic considerations lie at the intersection of geopolitics and climate politics. Making this clear right from the beginning – not ex post – will increase public acceptance of the policies that are needed in order to move forward with Europe’s strategic autonomy. Any attempt at strategic autonomy which lacks an in-built basis for social and democratic legitimacy is bound to fail.

Transformative thinking and participatory policy co-design are examples of how citizens could be directly involved in matters of strategic importance. Despite their limitations, the citizens’ climate assemblies in France and the United Kingdom and the citizens’ panels organised through the Conference on the Future of Europe are a start. Policies are ultimately about people, and it is people that feel their effects. Citizens should therefore be able to have their say on issues that will strongly impact their economic activities as well as their everyday lives. They should receive proper support with the costs and consequences of these decisions. Failing this, strategic autonomy will be met with resentment and may lead to a public backlash, ending up as little more than an EU buzzword.

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