As the first meetings take place between top Biden administration officials and their Chinese counterparts, the U.S. and China are beginning to map out how they plan to engage on climate change. Given diplomatic tensions between the two countries on such issues as trade, technology, and human rights, questions remain about whether the countries can cooperate to address the climate crisis.
In this edition of Columbia Energy Exchange, host Jason Bordoff is joined by Kelly Sims Gallagher to discuss what both the U.S. and China are doing domestically on climate change, and whether and how their actions may play out as cooperation or competition between the two nations.
Kelly Sims Gallagher is Academic Dean and Professor of Energy and Environmental Policy at The Fletcher School at Tufts University, where she directs the Climate Policy Lab and the Center for International Environment and Resource Policy. She served in the second term of the Obama Administration as a Senior Policy Advisor in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, and as Senior China Advisor in the Special Envoy for Climate Change office at the U.S. State Department.
Gallagher is the author of Titans of the Climate (The MIT Press 2018) and The Global Diffusion of Clean Energy Technologies: Lessons from China (MIT Press 2014), and dozens of other articles and book chapters.
Jason Bordoff: Hello and welcome to the Columbia Energy Exchange, a weekly podcast from the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University. I’m Jason Bordoff. As the first meetings take place between top Biden administration officials and their Chinese counterparts, the U.S. and China are beginning to map out how they plan to engage on climate change. Given diplomatic tensions between the two countries on issues such as trade, technology, human rights, questions remain about whether the countries can cooperate to address the climate crisis, to discuss what both the U.S. and China are doing domestically on climate change and whether and how their actions may play out as cooperation or competition between the two nations. I'm thrilled today to be joined by Kelly Sims Gallagher. Kelly is Academic Dean and Professor of Energy and Environmental Policy at The Fletcher School at Tufts, where she directs the Climate Policy Lab and the Center for International Environment and Resource Policy. She served in the second term of the Obama administration as a senior policy advisor in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and as a senior China advisor in the Special Envoy for climate change office at the U.S. State Department. Gallagher is the author of Titans of the Climate (The MIT Press 2018) and The Global Diffusion of Clean Energy Technologies: Lessons from China (MIT Press 2014), and dozens of other articles and book chapters. Kelly, thank you so much for joining us today on Columbia Energy Exchange.
Kelly Sims Gallagher: Glad to be here.
Jason Bordoff: We have a lot to talk about. So I mostly want to spend time talking about what is happening in the world of climate action, or inaction, climate diplomacy. But just to start, I want to talk a little bit about you to just help our listeners understand a little bit your background, how you came to the work that you are doing now, what you did in the Obama administration and what you're doing at Tufts now?
Kelly Sims Gallagher: Well, I'll work backwards. I'm currently the Academic Dean and a Professor at the Fletcher School at Tufts University. And I founded and direct the Climate Policy Lab that we have at Fletcher.
Jason Bordoff: With our friend Amy Jaffe, who's helped with our Women and Energy Program here at the Center on Global Energy Policy.
Kelly Sims Gallagher: That's right, Amy is the new Managing Director of the Climate Policy Lab, we're delighted to have her. And you are right from 2014 and 15, I took a leave of absence from Fletcher and served as a senior policy advisor in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. And concurrently, and this was unusual, served as senior China advisor in a special envoy for climate change office at the State Department. So I played I think, an important bridging role between the State Department and the White House on international climate policy. And I originally went down and joined the Obama administration to help with the negotiation of the U.S. China joint announcement, which was when the two countries announced their targets, leading up to the Paris Agreement, but I ended up working on a lot of issues, bilateral engagements with a number of other countries on climate as we ramped up for Paris and also put together a public private partnership on climate services for resilient development. And I was also in charge of the climate data initiative for the federal government, which was a big challenge.
Jason Bordoff: And just remind people what the US China climate agreement looked like in the Obama administration and why that was consequential for a successful outcome in Paris?
Kelly Sims Gallagher: So if you remember back to those days, the last big international climate negotiation took place in Copenhagen, which was in 2009. And the world in the context of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, was trying to negotiate a successor to the Kyoto Protocol from 1997. And actually, every major head of state, including President Obama went to Copenhagen to try to negotiate that agreement. But it did fall apart and they did not reach a you know, binding treaty. At that time, though, there was a decision of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, UNFCCC. So in the wake of that, I think many people were feeling skeptical about the ability of the big multilateral process to work and the two countries that were really most important in terms of their missions with United States and China and for different reasons in both countries, the other country was an impediment to action. So in the United States, we had a lot of members of Congress who felt like the United States should not take more action in terms of our domestic climate action because China wasn't doing enough and vice versa in China a developing country many of the Chinese government officials objected to China doing more because the United States was not doing enough. And in fact, the United States had walked away from the Kyoto Protocol. So I always believed that there would come a time when the two countries might be able to do a bilateral agreement. And that was part of the impetus for trying to negotiate an agreement in 2014. Why was it possible then? Well, first of all, I think President Obama was in his second term. And he was willing to take some risks. And I think feeling like his legacy on Climate Change needed some burnishing. I know, he felt an obligation to really try to do something substantial on climate while he was still president. And on the Chinese side, they were already acting, they were already doing a lot in terms of domestic policy. And it wasn't being enshrined in their international commitments. So I think they were very much ready to move forward. And the real breakthrough was by jointly announcing our commitments for the Paris Agreement, it motivated and catalyzed many other countries to step up to the plate to bring forward their own targets. So actually, by the time we got to Paris, which was negotiated in December 2015, almost every country had already put on the table, it's intended, what, this dorky term and nationally determined contribution that the targets and timetables for each country? So it really that initial announcement initiated a virtuous cycle that really accelerated ambitions for many countries around the world.
Jason Bordoff: So talk about what was on the plate for U.S. China diplomacy in 2014. And what is on the plate today? How is it similar and different? And obviously, the context for the U.S. China relationship is much more difficult today, but other than well, how ambitious a target will you have for 2030, which is going to be a focus of Glasgow. What else is the substance of the diplomacy?
Kelly Sims Gallagher: Well, I think it's really important to recognize that the broader context for both countries is totally different today, as compared with when it you know what was going on at the time, then. There had been no trade war between the two countries, there was much less concern in the United States about China's military power and military strength. There were some concerns about China's artificial intelligence and cyber capabilities, but not nearly to the same extent as they are now the human rights and democracy issues had not become such an irritant between the two countries, Hong Kong and Xinjiang hadn't happened. So I think, in general, we were in a different place. But even then, many people had not anticipated that the U.S. and China would be able to come together on climate because in the context of the international negotiations, United States and China were considered to be at polar ends of the spectrum. So it really was a very substantial breakthrough to do this joint announcement.
Jason Bordoff: And do you think the conversation today is whether climate can be compartmentalized from all the other difficulties on human rights and cyber and intellectual property and many other challenges in the U.S. China relationship now that Secretary Blinken, Jake Sullivan are sorting through what's your initial read a couple of months now into this about whether that is going to be possible?
Kelly Sims Gallagher: Well, I think it's essential for the two countries to be in dialogue and closely coordinating with each other. I don't think it's necessary for us to be directly cooperating at this time, though there's a couple of areas where I think it would be highly desirable. I do think that the broader context and current situation between the two countries is sufficiently challenging that we're it's very unlikely we're going to see some kind of announcement like the 2014 joint announcement or the 2015, joint statement at the presidential level. But nonetheless, it's essential that Former Secretary Kerry and his counterpart in China, Xie Zhenhua, be in regular conversation, because the two countries need to understand what's happening in each other's countries, there needs to be some trust building. I think that that happens so that we don't build up misunderstandings or maybe even mythologies about the other. So I think the first order of business is to make sure those conversations and the dialogue is taking place.
Jason Bordoff: I think underlying that is the view of climate change, which is this global tragedy of the commons problem; it doesn't matter where a ton of CO2 comes from. So we build confidence that everyone is going to take action and you won't have free rider problems. And the argument you often hear from some on Capitol Hill and elsewhere is well, why is the U.S. doing anything, China's not. That narrative, how much does that motivate the need for cooperation and diplomacy? But how much is that shifting? Because the messaging now one hears about things like investing in infrastructure broadly defined to include climate investments is economic competition we need to invest in when in these emerging areas of economic growth going forward? Does that change how you think about diplomacy?
Kelly Sims Gallagher: Well, I have long thought that the United States needed to get its act together and rise to the challenge and go ahead and compete with China. I think that's very healthy. As someone who's been studying the industrial development of China for almost 20 years now, it's been long apparent to me that China was making major investments in clean and renewable, and electric vehicle and energy storage, you name it, industries and starting to reap very substantial economic benefits. Whereas in the United States, while we have continued to make steady investments in energy technology innovation, we really have lagged in our infrastructure investments and we've never embraced what is known as industrial policy. And so, actually, I think China is in a leadership position in many respects with some of these clean energy industries and it's long past time for the United States to give them a run for their money.
Jason Bordoff: And what would you do that in, they may be too late for? I don't know, solar panels are building the cheapest solar panels here in the U.S., where would you do that? And how do you think about the benefits of doing that or not? One might say, well, it's great that China invested in domestic industries and they made stuff really cheap for us to buy like solar panels. So we should say thank you, or how do you think about the need to make those investments here at home?
Kelly Sims Gallagher: Well, I think the United States needs to take a really careful and thoughtful look at where it has comparative advantage at this point. It may be that for conventional polysilicon PV, there's really no point in the United States trying to recapture those markets. So, we once did have them. And it may be that our comparative advantages and thin film or next generation solar, I do very much feel that in the energy storage domain and the electric vehicle domain, there's a path that the United States could with determination and substantial investments, potentially win those global markets and of course, in advanced manufacturing and as we think about what are the pathways for deep decarbonization. Some of the technologies and equipment that will be needed to decarbonize industry, different types of industry, which will be needed all over the world, that seems to me like an area where the United States could potentially play a very important role think of aviation, for example, and how to decarbonize aviation or cement production and iron and steel and everything else. So chemicals, there's a lot of technology that's needed out there to get the world on a pathway for decarbonization. And I think where the United States has not functioned well, relative to China is having stable market formation policy and providing the kind of support to industry and workers that's needed. So we need to invest in our human capital. We need to invest in our kind of infrastructure capital and we need to invest in our firms.
Jason Bordoff: Yeah, I am. I wrote my last foreign policy column on sort of things along the lines of what you're saying and what it would look like for the US to invest in building domestic industries here at home and some of the emerging technologies will need for harder to abate sectors which can have economic benefits at home, but also be a way you define climate leadership beyond an NDC for a country that currently is 15% of global emissions, but helping to bring the cost down of technologies the rest of the world will need to think about what it means to be have an affordable pathway to a deep decarbonization. Do tell us what your view is, of what is actually happening in climate action in China, I feel like every day you pick up the paper and China's leading and clean energy or it's building hundreds of coal plants and actually, at carbon emission intensive industries helped to lead its recovery coming out of the COVID downturn. I've always really appreciated my colleague, David Sandalow, who, you know, well, who has published this annual guide to Chinese climate policy to sort of help break down what's actually happening on the ground, because one often hears, why is the US doing X, Y, or Z, China's, you know, not really doing anything? What do you see happening is China taking climate change seriously in its actions or not?
Kelly Sims Gallagher: Yes. Well, I mean, I think the first thing to say is that China's absolutely on track to achieve its commitments under the Paris Agreement. It actually over achieved its target for 2020, which was not a Paris target, but was it's 35-year-plan target in non fossil energy. So in China, they count nuclear and Hydro and wind and solar, all renewables as non-fossil energy sources. So they exceeded their goal for 2020 and they just increased, they updated their NDC in terms of increasing their non-fossil target for 2030. And I think we see, you know, some contradictions in China, because they are on track for achieving their Paris Agreement target, Xi Jinping in the fall announced a long term target of carbon neutrality by 2060. Our client, they call it climate neutrality, it's still unclear whether or not that includes all greenhouse gases.
Jason Bordoff: Is that significant or is 2060 so far out? It doesn't really mean much?
Kelly Sims Gallagher: Well, I think it's significant because you need to then immediately define a pathway for getting there. And that implies peaking as soon as possible. And, of course, putting a set of policies in place that allow you to bend the curve down and actually get emissions reductions on a pace consistent with carbon neutrality by 2060. So yes, I do think it's significant. And, of course, China's one of the first major developing countries to announce a netzero target. And I think that was also symbolically important and significant and a leadership step that China took that other developing countries are beginning to follow.
Jason Bordoff: So when you look at the five-year-plan, which is meaningful, lots of countries have targets and sometimes targets matter. Sometimes they don't lots of states in the US have targets. Sometimes they matter. Sometimes they don't. The five year plan does tend to matter, I think, tell me if that's wrong in terms of actually driving action. Do you see that as on track with those longer term goals and is it ambitious?
Kelly Sims Gallagher: Yes, so that the draft of the 14th five-year-plan just came out last month and it actually gave me some pause, because it did not seem consistent for me with a long term target. You know, it reiterates China's intention to adhere to its Paris Agreement targets and to peak by 2030. But there was nothing new there. In other words, I was kind of hoping that we would see a carbon cap in the 45 year plan, even if they didn't want to enshrine that in an international commitment, it would indicate a domestic ambition to achieve an early peak. But that was not included in the tone of this year's plan. You know, the kind of high level themes really changed from the 35 year plan, and that 13 five year plan, it was just filled with terms the ecological civilization and achieving a circular economy, achieving beautiful China, which was prioritizing the environment. Those themes are strongly de-emphasized and the new big themes are high quality development, stability, security, and this new development philosophy, which is boosting domestic demand and achieving supply side structural reform and boosting the digital economy so strong themes around security and economic development. And I think that might reflect the fact that every economy is facing recessionary pressure right now. But I think it also reflects the China feels that it overly relied on export markets, amid experience this trade war that I think was frankly unexpected in China during the Trump administration. And so there's sort of a tone of retrenching getting kind of back to the basics, enhancing China's security, it feels clearly under threat. And so my impression is they don't feel like they have the so called luxury to sort of emphasize the circular economy and ecological civilization themes that they did in the 13th five-year-plan.
Jason Bordoff: I have a perception that even when there were strong goals on the environment, to the extent they came into real or perceived tension with goals on the economy, the economy tended to win. Is that a fair assessment of how and is that what you see in the upcoming five year plan?
Kelly Sims Gallagher: I think during times of extreme economic stress, you are correct. But I also think many people fail to recognize this steady and consistent commitment in China to structural reform in the economy and moving away from you know, heavy industry what, what the Chinese economist Yifu Lin calls, comparative advantage defying strategy which, China had embarked in during the Cultural Revolution, right building all these huge, heavy industries. They weren't even particularly labor intensive. And so China's been on a 25-30 year economic reform strategy that has worked, it has moved strongly towards a service based economy, it has identified these strategic emerging industries, it has invested a huge amount of money in those industries. And that includes all the clean energy industries, electric vehicles, advanced manufacturing, artificial intelligence, what they call industrial internet. And in terms of its energy system, it has slowly but surely with fits and starts greatly reduce the proportion of coal as a percentage of primary energy supply.
Jason Bordoff: In its electricity or you're talking energy more broadly, including heating and?
Kelly Sims Gallagher: Overall, in electricity too, but overall in primary energy. Coal used to account for almost 80% of China's primary energy system and it's down to about 60% today and that has been a hard fought battle right, of gradually adding and being very consistent. Actually, it's not even fair to say gradual because China's new capacity additions for wind and solar have consistently been by far the largest in the world for the last five years. For 2020 China added 72 gigawatts of new wind and 48 gigawatts of new solar. And by comparison, in the United States, we only added 17 gigawatts of new wind and 16.5 gigawatts of new solar. So that just gives you this example that they really have been steadily making all of these changes. But yet the contradiction in China is that they also added 38 gigawatts of new coal last year. So they're wrestling with a lot of reform issues.
Jason Bordoff: Just explained to people who will trying to reconcile what you just said, they're trying to move away from coal, I presume, in part for local air pollution, as well as climate reasons. You describe going from 80 to 60% and yet building more, is that just the fact that the denominator is getting a lot bigger? Because unlike the U.S. they're growing energy use a lot or are they replacing old coal with new coal?
Kelly Sims Gallagher: Yeah, people forget that China's still a rapidly industrializing developing economy. And it's gigantic. 1.4 billion people, on purchasing power parity terms, it's already the largest economy in the world. In market exchange rates, it will soon be the largest economy in the world. So it's a rapidly growing economy with tremendous energy needs. And I would explain that expansion and coal, largely due to local protectionism. Because just like in the United States, where we have certain states and regions of the country that are coal producing regions, China has that too. And those provincial governors and local mayors are trying to protect those industries and the workers in those industries. And whenever possible, expand the use of coal and often working at cross purposes to what the central government is trying to achieve.
Jason Bordoff: And you talked about another primary driver for their policy being energy security, security of supply. So just talks about which way that cuts, they're an oil importing country on a net basis, maybe that means I want to move away from oil and develop electric vehicle industry at home, maybe that points in a good direction from a climate standpoint or maybe it means we don't want to import natural gas, we're going to use coal at home, from a climate standpoint, is that focus on energy security? Which way does it cut?
Kelly Sims Gallagher: Well, you're absolutely right. Like the United States, China has a lot of domestic coal reserves. So if strictly from an energy security point of view, the smart choice for China would be to use coal. It has a lot of it. Of course, not infinite, but it has a lot of coal, it does not have a lot of gas and it does not have a lot of oil so that is very different from the situation, the United States, which was blessed with these enormous oil and gas shale resources that, of course, we began to exploit in a serious way, beginning in the 1990s. So China imports almost all of its oil and gas. It feels very vulnerable. And I think the whole episode in the Suez Canal recently reinforced the fact that China relies on all these shipments from the Middle East, relies on Russia, to a much less extent, but has this kind of suspicious relationship with Russia has been very reluctant to become a majorly reliant on Russia for energy. So how does all of this translate for China, the non fossil resources are the wind, wind sources of energy that helps serve the energy security goals and air pollution goals and frankly, economic development goals, because China saw much sooner I think, than the United States did that the renewable energy industries and electric vehicles I think, is very much in the same category. We're going to be the industries of the 21st century. And they wanted to position themselves to be able to capture global markets. And indeed take solar, for example, I think eight of the 10 largest solar companies in the world, are Chinese, so of course, they're serving their own market, but they're also expert in huge quantities of solar panels all over the world serving foreign export markets.
Jason Bordoff: Of course, they're building a lot of energy infrastructure at home, but they're also building a lot of energy infrastructure all over the world through The Belt and Road Initiative and that has been a lot of hydrocarbon carbon intensive investment and infrastructure. What is your assessment of how their efforts to address climate should be viewed in the context of what they're doing through The Belt and Road Initiative and do you see that changing at all in part because of climate concerns or other national security concerns that are creating potentially some discomfort in recipient countries around the world about all of that Chinese debt?
Kelly Sims Gallagher: Yeah, this reminds me that I never fully answered your question about Chinese climate policy. So what I want to communicate is that, on the domestic side, the Chinese have done a lot, they've really gotten their house in order, they've established a national Emissions Trading System, they had a robust feed in tariff system before that, that really was what spurred this massive investment in renewables in China. And they have embarked in this enormous campaign to shift to electric vehicles and they've announced the end to the internal combustion engine in China. So they've done this remarkable job, putting a whole suite of policies in place for climate policy, domestically and as a result, that's why they're on track for achieving their Paris Agreement targets. But where China has not performed well, is it you know, from a climate point of view, is what it is invested in through The Belt and Road Initiative, about 80% of the energy Belt and Road investments have been in fossil fuels. And, of course, a lot of that has also been specifically Ben and coal. And by comparison, only I think, 2% each wind and solar of all the total investments. There's been a lot of hydro investment as well. And the problem, of course, is that China's investing in the energy infrastructure of so many developing countries around the world and every new coal plant that's built will last for 30-50. You know, there are even some coal plants here in the United States that are 75 years old. So they will last a long time. And it's absolutely inconsistent with the spirit and intentions of the Paris agreement to be building really carbon intensive infrastructure. So it's been disappointing to see China investing so much in these coal plants. And if there were one area that I would really love to see some cooperation between the U.S. and China, it would be on greening overseas investments and working together on development aid and overseas development finance, us to help those rapidly developing countries that so need these infrastructure investments avoid embarking on a big new growth pattern and emissions.
Jason Bordoff: What do you think that would look like as you know, one of the sort of contentious questions now in the development finance institutions is whether financing of gas projects should be part of the mix? Do you have thoughts about what a less carbon intensive pathway to development for countries that are rapidly increasing their energy use should look like?
Kelly Sims Gallagher: Well, the answer, I think, has to be country specific; it's very hard to generalize, because every country has different resources available to it. So some countries may have, may be blessed with substantial geothermal resources, for example, Indonesia and other countries might be blessed with exceptionally good solar or wind resources, I think gas is an interesting question that's I think another example of I sort of worry about countries getting stuck with infrastructure that will not be viable at some point in the future. So I would say, it would be ideal to largely focus on these non-fossil sources nuclear, renewables and energy efficiency frankly helping countries access energy efficiency. And I think as we think about infrastructure development helping to think about cleaner, lower carbon processes for cement and iron and steel production. So, there's so much room for growth there. If we look at China's VRI investments, there are only 11 investments in renewable energy installations around the world. So there's so much more that can be done. There's plenty of room for growth.
Jason Bordoff: Can you talk about the role of companies in China, when we talk about energy companies here, these are privately held companies, they respond to policy mandates and incentives. But we often forget that most of the world's oil and gas is not produced, they're produced by companies owned by the state. And if the state wants to change what the companies are doing, and in some ways is more challenging, in some ways, it has more options, more and more leverage to do that. My colleague, Philippe Benoit here at the energy centers written about that. So I know Sinopec in China recently committed to be carbon neutral by 2050. I think with the shift to gas and then eventually the hydrogen was the kind of theory of evolution there. Talking about the role of the state owned enterprises and do you see steps being taken that give you confidence, things will move in a lower carbon direction?
Kelly Sims Gallagher: Yeah. So we've we first need to step back and recognize that China's whole economic system is so different from the U.S. system that it's there almost in comparable. So China has state owned enterprises that are centrally state owned, that's the national government. And there's big ones like Shenhua the big coal largest coal company in the world, this is essentially a state-owned enterprise. One of the biggest, maybe the biggest electricity company in the world Huaneng is a centrally state-owned enterprise. But China also has lots of provincially state owned enterprises. So that's where their provincial government has invested in firms and it's whatever the provinces or even locally city state owned enterprises. But also, China has many, many private enterprises and BYD, the biggest electric vehicle company in China is a great example of a privately owned enterprise or Suntech, which was at one point, the largest solar PV company in the world is privately owned, so and some of them have mixed investments. So there might be partially state owned enterprises where provincial government has a minority stake or a majority stake. So they come in all flavors. But generally speaking, the fossil fuel industries and especially coal are state owned by the central government. And so it's a very interesting political economy challenge, right, because the central government has actually been steadfast and its support to moving to a low carbon economy, it's announced this long term complete decarbonization goal. And that means it must transform its own enterprises, who are the ones who are most likely to push back against the decarbonization transition. And the companies that will benefit the most are the ones that are not state owned, the renewable energy companies, the electric vehicle companies that have sprung up all over China, these are largely, not 100%, but largely speaking, the private enterprises, so it's a very interesting political economy challenge.
Jason Bordoff: And when we think about climate diplomacy with China or with Europe or others, talk a little bit about how you think the U.S. is viewed right now, after withdrawing from the Paris Agreement, undoing a lot of climate action in the Trump administration. And now the Biden administration says America is back is that is it, is it that simple or is there a lot of concern, skepticism, we'll believe it when we see it, and what do you think believing? And when we see it means what does the U.S. need to do? Do you think this infrastructure bill with EPA regulations and some other things that are possible in a pretty polarized political system are sort of going to be sufficient to build that kind of confidence overseas?
Kelly Sims Gallagher: So I think everyone is glad that the U.S. is back and I think people believe that President Biden intends for the United States to be back. But this is actually not the first time this happened. And I think a lot of other countries have a long memory about U.S. performance over time adhering to its international climate commitments. We need to go all the way back to 1992 which was when the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change was adopted at the at the Earth Summit. And actually, the United States not only signed, but ratified that treaty, it was one of the last times that the U.S. Senate ratified an environmental treaty. And that was George Herbert Walker Bush, who did that. And then the Kyoto Protocol was negotiated by the Clinton Gore Administration. And then the successor, of course, George W. Bush did not refuse to submit that to the Senate for ratification so that didn't happen. So many people felt like the U.S. negotiated very hard pushed a lot of countries in the context of Kyoto, and then didn't adhere to that agreement. And then the same thing happened all over again, with Obama pushing very hard for the Paris Agreement. And then, it appeared that the United States walked away from its commitments. And the unfortunate reality is the United States is not on track to achieve its Paris agreement at this time. And it will be hard for the U.S. to catch up, because of all the measures that the Trump administration took to repeal regulations and block back policies that had been put in place to get the U.S. on track. So I think that there is a lot of skepticism around the world about the ability of the United States to honor its commitments. And therefore I think world leaders are going to be less receptive to pressure from the Biden administration to increase their ambition and to do more, when the United States really needs to focus on getting its own act in order. And I think, I have this point of view. But I actually think it's essential for the United States to pass a climate law. I think that would do
Jason Bordoff: But when you say Climate Law, you mean, beyond spending beyond investment?
Kelly Sims Gallagher: Yes, I mean, I know we've got this infrastructure bill on the table and I'm very supportive of almost everything in the plan. And it would help us a lot, actually. But I don't think that that's sufficient, because until the United States has enshrined into law, a commitment to achieve net zero, has given the different agencies authority, explicit authority to regulate greenhouse gases and so forth. The whole U.S. policy making system is really vulnerable to the whims of, you know, whoever's the president, and whoever's in Congress. And so that is why U.S. domestic policy has whiplashed back and forth. I think that's also why U.S. firms have sort of suffered and lost their competitive advantage, because they've been living in such a chaotic domestic policy environment. And so I think until we have that, essentially national consensus demonstrated to the world that we have, in fact, passed a climate bill, even if it is not everything that we really think is necessary initially, to achieve net zero by 2050, I just think are signaling to the world is that we are a house divided and that we're not going to be able to honor our commitments.
Jason Bordoff: That may be a reflection of the fact that we are a house divided. But and the infrastructure framework does have a clean electricity standard in it, although we'll see if that can survive in a world of budget reconciliation. It has other things like by America provisions, I'm curious how Europe and other parts of the world view some of those things layered into the government investment do you have one of the things I've written about I know you have too is what it means to put climate more at the center of U.S. foreign policy, including but not limited to the climate diplomacy, we've been talking about. How do you think that's going and what does it mean to do that?
Kelly Sims Gallagher: Yeah, I think, um, until this administration, I'm not sure climate was really ever considered a top tier issue in foreign policy circles. I think that started to happen at the end of the Obama administration, but it was always considered sort of a softer, sort of second tier or maybe third tier issue. And I think we now must recognize that for many of our allies, particularly in Europe, climate change is maybe the most important issue to them. And for many developing countries, especially those that feel very vulnerable to climate change, it is a top priority for them as well. And so, therefore, we need to begin factoring climate change into all facets of our diplomacy and all facets of our development agenda.
And I think, at the end of the Obama administration, there really was an attempt to start doing that kind of mainstreaming. And it just was cut short, of course, by the end of the administration and the takeover of the Trump administration. But I think that's a critical ask of the Biden administration, because the expectation from all our counterparts is that that climate is really that top tier issue.
Jason Bordoff: And I just want to close by asking you to look forward a little bit toward the end of this month, we'll have Leaders Summit, what will you be looking for, on April 22, that will give you some sense about whether things are headed in a good direction for Glasgow, how would you define success on April 22 including but not limited to what China might do, if anything, I don't know if you think they will. What are you going to be looking for on the 22nd?
Kelly Sims Gallagher: I actually am hoping that we don't have a lot of external posturing and speeches, what I would be thrilled to know is that the leader sat down and had some frank and honest conversations with each other. And sort of, again, sort of rebuilt trust and started to help each other understand the domestic constraints and concerns in each country that you just facing and that they developed a good strategy for getting to success by the November cop, of course, we're going to have the U.S. announcement of its NDC. I think that's kind of big news. And the question is, will other countries follow suit? And will China enhance its ambition as well?
Jason Bordoff: What's your bet for what that target will be?
Kelly Sims Gallagher: You know, I don't know, I don't have a bet. I know that Europeans are hoping and pushing for a 50% reduction by 2030. It's very hard for me to see what the policy pathway is for the United States to actually achieve that 50% without the legislation we just talked about. I don't think that the Biden administration should over promise if it can't deliver. I'm much more concerned about us perpetuating this pattern of over promising and under delivering.
Jason Bordoff: Yeah, you're echoing another reason foreign policy column I wrote sort of it is difficult, without broader congressional action, to get that sort of ambitious target. Nevertheless, to go further than that, which of course we need to. Kelly, you've been really generous with your time, always fascinating talk to you. Thank you so much for being with us today.
Kelly Sims Gallagher: And thanks for having me.
Jason Bordoff: Thank you again, Kelly. Thanks to all of you, our listeners for joining us on this episode of Columbia Energy Exchange. For more information about the podcast or the Center on Global Energy Policy, please visit us online at energypolicy.columbia.edu or follow us on social media @ColumbiaUEnergy. I'm Jason Bordoff. Thanks again for listening. We'll see you next week.