America’s energy relations with Europe were about as strong as they ever could be when Barack Obama bid goodbye to the White House in early 2017. In his last year, the two sides worked together to bridge a long-standing divide with developing countries and clinch the Paris climate agreement; secured a second landmark deal to lift sanctions on energy-rich Iran; and committed to further cooperation on securing clean energy supplies, liberalizing trade and combating climate change.
“We are stronger when we work together,” Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel wrote in a joint op-ed in November 2016, soon after Donald Trump’s election. “The partnership between the United States and Germany has also played a central role in reaching the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. It gives the world the framework for the common protection of our planet.”
Two years later, the European Union headed to the global climate summit in Katowice, Poland in early December carrying the heavy burden of leadership on its own. The aim of the two-week COP24 is to agree to a dense and technical set of rules to ensure that countries meet the Paris goals for limiting global warming by 2100. It should also set the scene for them to raise their pledged action by 2020, as the deal requires.
Yet the outlook for the summit is cloudy at best. The rulebook negotiations reignited old differences between rich countries and China and other emerging economies. The U.S. remains a party to the Paris Agreement, as Trump cannot legally pull out until late 2020 at the earliest, but the U.S. presence has dwindled to a team of civil servants working quietly behind closed doors. They often fight alongside Europeans for the same principals as previous administrations, only with far less political clout.