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EU Ambassadors Bike for Sustainability

By Jared Gans

Diplomats from European Union member states took to the D.C. streets on July 25 for a bike ride to promote environmental sustainability efforts.

The event, “Cycling for Sustainability,” began at the Finnish Embassy and coincided with Finland assuming the rotating presidency of the European Union (also see “Finns Take Low-Key Approach to Arctic, Russia, Other Issues as They Assume EU Presidency” in the July 2019 issue of The Washington Diplomat).

As part of its six-month presidency, Finland will help the EU in its efforts to serve as a global climate leader and produce a “net-zero” carbon emissions economy by 2050.

EU Finland Sustainability Bike
European Union Ambassador Stavros Lambrinidis waves as he bikes along Observatory Circle as part of an event to pedal in support of sustainable climate action goals during Finland’s presidency of the EU. Photos: EU Delegation to the U.S.

Following the bike ride, there was a panel discussion held at the EU ambassador’s residence, where diplomats and experts talked about the need for transatlantic cooperation to promote environmental sustainability.

EU Ambassador Stavros Lambrinidis called the bike ride “a visible reminder that we are in this together — we need to cooperate to tackle climate change, promote conservation and put the focus on how we can unite to create a healthier, cleaner, sustainable and more prosperous planet for ourselves and our children.

“The message is one of great hope,” he added. “We can do this individually, in communities and in major policies around the world.”

New York Times climate change reporter Lisa Friedman moderated the panel, which included Lambrinidis; Finnish Ambassador Kirsti Kauppi; Ryan Costello, a former former Pennsylvania congressman and founder of the consulting firm Costello Strategies; and Bob Perciasepe, the president of the nonprofit Center for Climate and Energy Solutions.

Kauppi said that while Finland won’t be introducing any new policies or determining the Council of the European Union’s agenda during its EU presidency, she said the office can emphasize practical cooperation on certain issues and use its “political weight” to push for its priorities, which for Finland revolve around the environment.

EU Finland Sustainability Bike
European Union Ambassador Stavros Lambrinidis hugs Finnish Ambassador Kirsti Kauppi as they welcome fellow envoys for a bike ride to promote sustainability.

“Finland has decided that we want to emphasize sustainable development in all its dimensions: environmental, economic and social,” she said.

The country practices what it preaches here in D.C. Finland’s contemporary, glass-enclosed embassy on Observatory Circle, whose eco-friendly design evokes the Finns’ love of nature, was recently awarded the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, LEED Platinum certification for the second time. In 2015, the Embassy of Finland was the first embassy in the U.S. to receive the prestigious Platinum level certificate from the United States Green Building Council.

“I am very proud of my staff who show year after year personal and professional commitment to sustainable values. Climate change is the biggest worry in the minds of Finnish citizens, and this re-certification shows that small, daily solutions can have a concrete and long-lasting impact,” Kauppi said in a press release.

On that note, Kauppi has repeatedly stressed that her homeland demonstrates that protecting the environment does not need to come at the cost of economic prosperity.

“I think what we have shown, in the Nordic countries especially, is that you can combine a very strong focus and real improvement in the environmental and climate conditions of your society — really reducing emissions, reducing pollution, reducing harmful activities — and at the same time have growth and a very vibrant economy. So it is not only environmentally beneficial but also economically beneficial to invest in the green economy,” she told The Washington Diplomat for our July 2019 cover profile. “It brings a lot of other benefits — basically a better quality of life in many senses.”

EU Finland Sustainability Bike
EU ambassadors and diplomats prepare for their bike ride.

Kauppi said she is confident that Finland can work with EU member states such as Poland and Hungary that have been concerned about the costs of environmental regulations to reach a “democratic” solution that includes the input of all members.

“That is the cornerstone of EU policy, that we take the interests of the member states into account,” Kauppi said after the bike ride. “But I think that through the discussions, we can also find other fuel sources on which we all must go back, and the people of Finland think that it is very important to be ambitious.”

Ambassador Lambrinidis noted that the 2015 Paris climate agreement would not have been possible without leaderships from the United States and that he regrets President Trump’s decision to formally leave the landmark accord in November 2020. He said if the U.S. does leave the agreement, he hopes cooperation between the U.S. and EU can continue on various other levels.

“Climate action can take many forms,” Lambrinidis pointed out. “It can relate to increasing the efficiency of industries. It can focus on rolling out renewable energies. It can focus on the transport sector.”

EU Finland Sustainability Bike
Headlining the panel on climate change were, from left: European Union Ambassador Stavros Lambrinidis; Lisa Friedman of The New York Times; Bob Perciasepe, president of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions; Ryan Costello, a former former Pennsylvania congressman and founder of the consulting firm Costello Strategies; and Ambassador of Finland Kirsti Kauppi.

He said the EU and U.S. continue to work together on issues such as research and development and partnerships through international organizations such as the International Maritime Organization and the International Civil Aviation Organization.

The ambassador added that even if the U.S. does exit the climate agreement next year, the EU will continue to work to ensure that the remaining countries meet their voluntary climate commitments as part of the pact. He said the EU will also pursue closer cooperation with U.S. states and cities to meet the goals of the Paris agreement.

On that note, the U.S. Climate Alliance is a bipartisan coalition of states that was formed in 2017 after President Trump announced the U.S. would leave the Paris accord. Since its creation, 25 states have joined the alliance.

“They have all come together working on Paris goals, looking at energy transition, looking at available opportunities that this huge climate change climate is providing,” Lambrinidis said.

Perciasepe, the president of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, said he is hopeful that states such as New York and California, which combined rank among the top five economies in the world, have resolved to be completely carbon-neutral by 2050.

“It’s almost Charles Dickens here. There’s a tale of two countries,” Perciasepe said. “There’s a country where a majority of the people want to do something on climate change and many of the businesses do.”

He said many of the regulatory rollbacks occurring under the Trump administration have not yet taken effect because they are being challenged in court. He added that the Environmental Protection Agency cannot work to legally increase greenhouse gases since the Clean Air Act requires the EPA to regulate them.

Finally, Perciasepe said that many businesses, such as electrical companies, are surpassing the goals set by President Obama’s Clean Power Plan on their own accord.

“The power industry at large is looking at cleaner and more abundant natural gas,” Perciasepe said. “They’re looking at the legacy of coal nationally. They’re looking at the emergence of low-cost and readily available renewable energy technologies. And so you see most of the power companies moving to develop their own goals.”

Former Congressman Costello said he does not understand the reason for removing certain environmental standards when many industries seem willing to meet them.

“In particular when you look at the large incumbent players, transportation and energy, there’s a competitive advantage to having more heightened, more aggressive, more robust environmental standards in place.”

Costello said he is interested in what the Democratic platform on environmental issues will be in 2020 because he feels the best approach to tackle climate change is a “center-right to center-left market-based solution” because ideas that are too politically extreme on either side of the aisle will lose popular support.

He said that while a few climate change deniers remain in Congress, they “shrink by the day” because there has been more environmental education as time goes on. He added that one of the biggest challenges is maintaining the attention of the American public on this issue for an extended period of time.

“It’s very difficult to get the American public’s attention on any one thing for a long period of time,” Costello said. “A lot of it is planting seeds.”


Jared Gans is an editorial intern for The Washington Diplomat.



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