A breath of fresh air for the transatlantic energy transition

The seventh international energy transition dialogue made it abundantly clear: the global energy transition is in full swing, with a new transatlantic energy partnership and the US government's return to climate diplomacy.

Economic Affairs Minister Peter Altmaier at the seventh international energy transition dialogue© BMWi / Andreas Mertens

'It was an unusual sight for the participants of the 7th international Berlin Energy Transition Dialogue (BETD) on 16/17 March 2021: in contrast to previous conferences, when the participants had all flocked to the German capital for mutual discussions, moderator Dr Melinda Crane was now sitting alone in a room that suddenly appeared oversized. U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry joined the video conference from his home office – in the happy company of his dog. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, however, chose to speak from a lectern. Flags and desks with piles of paperwork were a common sight, and there were young people from all over the world. More than 50 ministers participated in the conference, with around 13,000 people from 134 countries joining online. Coming from so many diverse backgrounds, the participants were united in a common goal. Guided by the slogan ‘Energy transition – towards climate neutrality’, they explored the possibilities and opportunities to press ahead with the global energy transition.

Germany and U.S. seek close cooperation on climate action and the global energy transition

The digital conference placed a major focus on the transatlantic energy transition, which had gained considerable momentum as the U.S. rejoined the Paris Climate Agreement. As one of his first acts in office – and on the very day of his inauguration – U.S. President Joe Biden had written to UN Secretary-General António Guterres, requesting the readmission of his country as Party to the Paris Agreement. Climate activists from around the world, particularly in Germany, are now pinning their hopes on the U.S.

Since 19 February 2021, the United States has been back in the world of climate diplomacy, together with 189 other countries – and it has big ambitions. Federal Minister Peter Altmaier and U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry used the BETD to discuss how Germany and the U.S. could work together closely on the international stage to combat climate change and to speed up the global energy transition. In addition, the two countries are seeking to cooperate closely at bilateral level. Kerry also delivered a live speech at the BETD, calling for resolute action towards reducing carbon emissions in what will be a decisive decade. The U.S., he said, would tackle this task both with humility and with great ambition. Power supply in the U.S. is to be carbon-neutral by 2035 – as is the entire country by 2050.

Germany and Canada become partners for the transatlantic energy transition

The United States’ northern neighbour, Canada, has become another important partner for Germany in the transatlantic energy transition. On 16 March 2021, Economic Affairs Minister Peter Altmaier and his Canadian colleague Seamus O’Regan signed a memorandum of understanding establishing the German-Canadian Energy Partnership.

'Germany and Canada are both committed to an ambitious energy transition. We will both phase out coal, ramp up hydrogen production and usage, make increased use of carbon pricing and speed up energy efficiency over the coming years. Especially with respect to hydrogen, I think there is great potential for collaboration,' Minister Altmaier said. Seamus O’Regan highlighted the importance of a socially acceptable energy transition that reconciles economic growth with climate action. 'New international energy relationships, like this one with Germany, will help us lower global emissions,' he said. Canada, he pointed out, was working towards 'an economy that continues to create good jobs, and a low-emissions future that leaves no worker behind.'

The priorities envisaged for the partnership include energy efficiency, integration of renewable energies, security of supply, technological innovation, and cooperation with a particular focus on forward-looking hydrogen technologies. By 2050, Canada strives to become one of the world’s three leading producers – as well as a major exporter – of hydrogen.

Unprecedented global support for the energy transition

In a virtual panel discussion at the BETD, Seamus O’Regan and Peter Altmaier were joined by U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry, Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio and EU Energy Commissioner Kadri Simson to discuss the opportunities of a new transatlantic cooperative partnership in the energy transition. Altmaier pointed to the momentum of opportunity arising from an increasingly large alliance of countries that are committed to reaching climate neutrality by 2050. 'This is the task of a generation that we can tackle together through close international cooperation,' he said.

Federal Foreign Minister Heiko Maas was similarly blunt about the challenges of the coming years: 'The future of our planet depends on the success of the energy transition. The global level of support for the energy transition is unprecedented. The U.S. has re-entered the climate policy arena. Moreover, China, South Korea and Japan have signalled their commitment to climate neutrality.' Maas called on the international community to harness this momentum. He also said that the end of the fossil fuel age would dramatically alter the world as we know it over the coming decades. A video recording of the joint opening statement by Heiko Maas and Peter Altmaier is available here (in German only).

The Berlin Energy Transition Dialogue is an annual event that has taken place since 2015 at the invitation of the Federal Government. It is hosted in cooperation with the Federal Association for Renewable Energy (BEE), the Federal Solar Industry Association (BSW-Solar), the German Energy Agency (DENA), and the international consultancy firm eclareon.