Wednesday

28th Feb 2024

Opinion

Can Green Deal survive the 2024 European election?

  • Europe's political parties have reason to worry that promising action on bold carbon-cutting targets will be like turkeys voting for Christmas (Photo: electoralcommission.org.uk)
Listen to article

Climate-doubters claim top spot in the Netherlands. A boiler ban puts the German government on the back foot. Five years after France's 'gilets jaunes' [Yellow Vests movement] forced him into a retreat on fuel duty, president Emmanuel Macron calls for a break from EU environmental rules.

As governments wrangle at COP28, Europe's political parties have reason to worry that promising action on bold carbon-cutting targets will be like turkeys voting for Christmas. Many voters feel they simply can't afford to tackle climate change.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Get the EU news that really matters

Instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

  • What emerges is an awareness a fear among those on tight budgets of additional costs, but also a willingness to do their bit (Photo: Michelle Henderson)

At Belgium's King Baudouin Foundation, along with a group of other European charitable foundations, we were prompted by that backlash against Macron's green agenda to seek answers to a question that remains fundamental to making progress on Europe's climate ambitions with a new European Parliament and EU Commission in 2024 — what kind of green transition can secure buy-in from those who stand to suffer the most from climate change, yet who have the least capacity to adapt their lifestyles or pay higher bills?

So we asked them...

A first step, which may seem obvious but which we discovered has little recent precedent, was to ask them.

The Fair Energy Transition for All — or FETA — project has undertaken a grassroots listening exercise across the continent. It has demonstrated, first, that, whatever some politicians may believe, there are few 'climate sceptics' among Europe's most hard-pressed and disadvantaged citizens; and second, that putting in the time and effort to hear them out can produce policies which will not only help the planet but also help heal our divided, unequal societies.

We can move past this perceived polarisation between a green-thinking 'elite' and an apparently obstructive 'people' and launch a truly-collaborative climate transition by making the most vulnerable in society actors and partners in change that works for them.

Sounding out the views of those who feel left out takes a degree of creativity and investment, in time and resources. FETA has organised discussions around cutting emissions that involved 1,000 people living in hardship in nine EU countries. By discarding lazy assumptions, and going beyond opinions marshalled by community organisers, to hear directly from those who feel unheard and left behind, we found their concerns — and constructive ideas — to be diverse, original, and ripe with solutions.

Reaching out to the jobless, the poorly-housed, those struggling with old age or poor health, single parents, in cities, towns, and villages, takes patience.

To form views on complex issues requires clear explanation and building confidence among people who have grown to mistrust many who claim to speak for them. Meeting in familiar spaces, sharing meals, payment for their time, were all helpful.

What emerges is an awareness a fear among those on tight budgets of additional costs, but also a willingness to do their bit.

"Saving energy is a good thing," was a typical comment to FETA researchers. "But I don't want to limit my kids by cooking less or telling them to take a cold shower."

Also clear is a sense that society is already unfair and that costs of change should be borne by governments and those who cause more of the problem. And what goes down very badly is being talked down to — "You can't run a tractor on pedal power," one Spanish small farmer retorted in a swipe at urbanites swapping SUVs for two wheels.

Listening to Europe's unheard voices has lent credibility to policy recommendations worked out with FETA citizen forums. They have been presented at COP28 and we are pleased to see both the commission and national governments currently taking our ideas on board.

Belgium has made "inclusive transition" a keystone of its EU Council presidency, starting in January.

FETA generated proposals as varied as its participants. They range from mandatory, landlord-funded insulation and free buses to cheap loans for heat pumps or for cleaner cars. Local energy cooperatives are also popular, as would be curbing the carbon footprints of limousines and private jets.

To those running against climate sceptic lists for seats in Strasbourg, the message from hard-pressed Europeans is that they, too, fear for the state of the planet tomorrow and they are willing to get behind leaders today — if they offer a green transition that is also inclusive and, above all, fair.

Author bio

Brieuc Van Damme is managing director of the King Badouin Foundation.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

Analysis

How Wilders' Dutch extremism goes way beyond Islamophobia

Without losing sight of his pervasive Islamophobia, it is essential to note Geert Wilders' far-right extremism extends to other issues that could drastically alter the nature of Dutch politics — and end its often constructive role in advancing EU policies.

Coalition squabble in Germany over €60bn budget black hole

Less than a week has passed since the ruling of Germany's Constitutional Court against the reallocation of €60bn, and the political consequences are becoming increasingly drastic. The pressing question now centres on how to fill the gap.

Analysis

What are the big money debates at COP28 UN climate summit?

The most critical UN climate conference (COP28) ever will run from Thursday to mid-December — with talks on climate commitments and climate finance expected to determine the success of this year's summit.

Latest News

  1. Macron on Western boots in Ukraine: What he really meant
  2. Amazon lobbyists banned from EU Parliament
  3. MEPs adopt new transparency rules for political ads
  4. EU nature restoration law approved after massive backlash
  5. Memo from Munich — EU needs to reinvent democracy support
  6. For Ukraine's sake, pass the EU due diligence directive
  7. All of Orbán's MPs back Sweden's Nato entry
  8. India makes first objection to EU carbon levy at WTO summit

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersJoin the Nordic Food Systems Takeover at COP28
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersHow women and men are affected differently by climate policy
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersArtist Jessie Kleemann at Nordic pavilion during UN climate summit COP28
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP28: Gathering Nordic and global experts to put food and health on the agenda
  5. Friedrich Naumann FoundationPoems of Liberty – Call for Submission “Human Rights in Inhume War”: 250€ honorary fee for selected poems
  6. World BankWorld Bank report: How to create a future where the rewards of technology benefit all levels of society?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsThis autumn Europalia arts festival is all about GEORGIA!
  2. UNOPSFostering health system resilience in fragile and conflict-affected countries
  3. European Citizen's InitiativeThe European Commission launches the ‘ImagineEU’ competition for secondary school students in the EU.
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region is stepping up its efforts to reduce food waste
  5. UNOPSUNOPS begins works under EU-funded project to repair schools in Ukraine
  6. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsGeorgia effectively prevents sanctions evasion against Russia – confirm EU, UK, USA

Join EUobserver

EU news that matters

Join us