Europes new energy dependency

Combatting climate change is, by definition, a global task.

Europe has shown its ready to take a leading role in this fight: Legislation proposed by the European Commission and making its way through the EU institutional process sets out how the bloc can become the worlds first economy to achieve climate neutrality by 2050.

But we cant go it alone: Decarbonizing the Continent wont lessen our dependence on the rest of the world.

The Commission has prepared for the years ahead by updating legislation related to energy efficiency and internal electricity market rules. Even after our energy supply is mostly supplied by renewable sources, there is no realistic scenario in which Europes future will be all-electric — or entirely energy independent.

If we want a shot at achieving our climate goals, we need to embed our energy strategy into every aspect of international diplomacy and foreign relations.

Europe should keep taking the lead in international climate negotiations to ensure that efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are truly global.

What does this mean?

First and foremost, Europe should keep taking the lead in international climate negotiations to ensure that efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are truly global. Advocating for an ambitious and robust implementation of the 2015 Paris Agreement will be crucial — as will leading the discussions on developing the long-term greenhouse-gas reduction strategies that have to be in place under the deal by 2020.

We must also recognize the strategic value of becoming a leader in the production of clean energy technologies, from solar panels and wind turbines to batteries and smart network components. The availability and free access to these technologies will be crucial to maintaining the sovereignty and security of European countries so that we are not reliant on third parties.

Cooperating with international partners to create new technologies can be a win-win situation, but we cant afford to be naïve. We have to insist on fair access to markets and maintain control over key assets, including an increasingly digitalized electricity grid. This is crucial to our energy security — and therefore to our security more broadly.

Miguel Arias Cañete, European commissioner for climate action and energy | Erwin Scheriau/AFP via Getty Images

To achieve this goal, we should continue to develop tools to screen foreign investment in certain well-defined strategic sectors. China is already a leader in the manufacturing of solar panels and electric cars, and is poised to dominate the global production of battery cells, for example. We must ensure that there is a level playing field on which our companies can compete.

To this end, Europe needs to continue working on reciprocal market access with China and resist forced technology transfers, whereby foreign companies are made to surrender their technology through a joint venture agreement or other regulations. A reformed World Trade Organization will be crucial to both goals.

Technology is not the only sector where Europe should be wary of Chinese dominance. A fair, clean energy transition will also require access to the metals or minerals that are key to the production of new technologies.

In general, these raw materials are far less concentrated geographically compared with fossil fuels, and there is likely to be less of a bottleneck in trying to gain access to them. Still, Chinas lead on certain minerals and components, such as magnets used in some wind turbines — 83 percent of global production — or electrolytes employed in batteries — 60 percent — could impact European competitiveness.

To address this, Europe should continue to oppose restrictions in the trade of such materials. We will also have to put sustainability at the heart of our procurement rules for such materials, to set clear standards on how we source them — and, when possible, reuse them.

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