US and EU ‘IRA’: made in China? Jupiter Green IT’s Wallace and Guo analyse EU’s response to the US’ ‘unprecedented’ ‘IRA’

by | May 9, 2023

Buildings in Beijing, China

Written by Jon Wallace and Noelle Guo, co-managers of Jupiter Green Investment Trust

The EU’s efforts to catch up with the US’s massive move to support strategic green industries, jobs and clean technology signal a new era as this analysis, co-authored by Jon Wallace and Noelle Guo, managers of Jupiter Green Investment Trust, clearly shows.

Last summer, new legislation providing the greatest support for environmental solutions in the history of the United States passed into law. Yet you would hardly have known it from the name. The Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 (IRA), signed into law by President Joe Biden on 16 August 2022, was originally billed as the Build Back Better Act, but neither name reflects the true intentions behind the law – combatting climate change and reinvigorating US industrial and strategic policy in the process.

Not only does the IRA give the US a meaningful chance of meeting its greenhouse gas reduction targets of 40% below 2005 levels by 2030, but it also presents an unprecedented catalyst for companies in the environmental solutions space, providing $369 billion of spending over ten years on clean energy, electric vehicle incentives and home energy efficiency and supply improvements. Moreover, upwards of $37bn has been allocated for simple, effective advanced manufacturing incentives that have already begun to shift the corporate investment landscape.

These incentives go a step further by squarely aiming tax credits at drawing corporate and investment capital to the US. ‘American taxpayer dollars ought to go to American investments and American jobs,’ was how John Podesta, senior advisor to President Joe Biden, recently put it.

In response, the EU’s Net-Zero Industry Act and European Critical Raw Materials Act, both part of a Green Deal Industrial Plan and dubbed the ‘EU IRA’, are designed to prevent the bloc falling further behind.

The proposed legislation sets a headline benchmark of ensuring that at least 40% of low-carbon technology needs are met by manufacturing within the EU by 2030. What stands out is that while the debate rages about whether this is feasible, buried in the documents is an about-turn in the European approach.

Recognising the US policy is more carrot than stick, the EU drafts make reference to a largely overlooked framework that offers ‘matching aid’ to companies “where there is a real risk of investments being diverted away from Europe”. This ‘Temporary Crisis and Transition Framework’ (TCTF), announced on 9 March, came two days after VW put the brakes on its plans for a European battery plant, citing up to €10bn of tax incentives available in the US over the lifetime of a similar factory.

‘Lessons learned’

It would be easy to think that an increasingly protectionist mindset will ease over time, but this is less likely to happen in clean technology markets. Both the US IRA and its European equivalent refer explicitly to ‘lessons learned’. The European drafts highlight the risk of replacing an over-reliance on Russian fossil fuels ‘with other strategic dependencies that could impede our access to key technologies and inputs for the green transition.’

Without doubt, these strategic dependencies already exist. The Net-Zero Industry Act refers directly to China accounting for 90% of global investments in net zero manufacturing facilities.

This remarkable statistic can be traced back to a phenomenally successful Chinese policy decision over a decade ago. On October 10, 2010, China issued the State Council’s Decision to Accelerate the Development of Strategic Emerging Industries, later incorporated into China’s 12th 5-year plan in 2011. In amongst the seven strategic emerging industries are five that the US and Europe are now directly aiming to nurture and protect.

Fast forward to today, China dominates several environmental technology supply chains, boasting the largest global manufacturers and suppliers of critical components such as batteries and solar PV modules. Having started earlier, China has also built sufficient momentum to relax government support for such sectors. For example, electric vehicle (EV) subsidies introduced in 2010 have been reduced over time and ended completely on 1 January 2023, yet the EV market in China is expected to keep growing.

Embracing change

We see three implications of this changing landscape. The first is that this is further evidence of what we see as a watershed moment where environmental solutions are no longer deemed peripheral, but instead integral, to future economies and markets.

The second implication is that a more protectionist landscape doesn’t signal the start of a slow-down in the rate of growth for environmental solutions in real-world markets. Instead, the US IRA represents a recognition that the pace needs to accelerate dramatically to meet long-term climate goals, and that the enabling technologies and solutions are strategic growth industries in a changing world. In the same way that companies drive competitive forces that accelerate change in market sectors, competition amongst the US, EU and China for leadership in environmental solutions has the potential to give a much-needed boost to the rate of growth across clean energy, green buildings & industry, and green mobility solutions, for example.

The third implication is that there will be winners and losers in this more fragmented – even confrontational – competitive backdrop. Establishing a leading position across the US, EU and Asian markets is becoming more challenging for environmental solutions companies, and so identifying companies positioned to benefit from the opportunities of changing policy landscape, while navigating the risks, is paramount for long-term outperformance.

Thematic investment is an acceptance of, and appetite for, the future to be different to the past. By capturing structural growth opportunities through economic cycles, thematic investing provides investors with an opportunity to generate above-market returns over the long-term. While the structural growth opportunity is accelerating, so too is its complexity, placing specialist active managers at an advantage.

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