As the Union’s climate ambition and the Future of Europe debate heats up in the EU, there are more and more voices asking the question: Who will pay for it? How this question is answered will determine the success of both the EU as a champion of multilateralism and the champion of the Paris Agreement.
From the Gilets Jaunes to #FridaysforFuture and the German Coal Phase-out debate, the EU Commission’s proposed long term climate strategy and the Dutch climate law ( just to name a few) this is the frame of many discussions. As science has clearly said: we have just over ten years left to act. When it comes to the progress of multilateralism in Europe, we probably only have a few months left.
The decisive moment is the EU Elections at the end of May. Progressive liberals ( like myself) tend to paint the picture that it is going to be about – as Timmermans put it – ‘the soul of Europe’. Whatever that is for the average European it is about: if there is a progressive future than who will pay for it? This is what the Gilets Jaunes asks, the schoolkids on strike, the fossil fuel and automotive industry workers and also what Southern and Eastern governments ask from the West and the North.
Most Europeans are concerned with security and economy and expect the EU to address that. Climate comes 4th on the priority list, with a variety based on which region the respondent is from. Despite some economic stability, the inequality gap did not narrow neither inside nor between member states.
This is partly because there has not been any significant structural change in distributing EU funds towards a low carbon economy and to increase the European Social Fund which is the main mechanism to address inequality in Europe. The currently discussed Multiannual Financial Framework ( otherwise known as the EU Budget) is being challenged both by green and social justice NGOs, failing to use the resources to advance just transition into a low carbon economy. And despite the fact that Europe makes up a large portion of the Clean200 list, – the world’s top-ranked “clean” companies based on their “total green energy revenue.- but Europe is also a dominant region on the 100 Carbon Majors list. Currently, the EU’s agreed climate ambition is a record low and public investment into RE is stagnating. Whilst non-state actors are pioneering policies and actions on climate change, most national governments, including the once champion states like Germany and France, – in order to prioritize the interest of the current economic elite over future generations and the wider population of the planet – are lagging behind.
Despite the upsurge of seemingly populist, but rather neoliberal nationalist politics in most of Europe, which questions the reality of climate change, there is still a public consensus in most of Europe about climate action. People are also on the street from East to West to protest rising prices, climate inaction, shrinking democracy and corruption. “End of the world, end of the month – the same struggle” – read a banner at the Gilets Jaunes protest, produced by climate activists in solidarity and were welcomed by the movement. Despite news coverage portraying the yellow vests as climate deniers, they have stated in their manifesto that they want climate action and want the rich polluters to pay for it. Climate and a progressive future for our continent seem to be the two sides of the same coin.
To me, the challenge and opportunity are clear: making social justice a fundamental part of environmental action in Europe, will help us to avoid polarization and create more public support for multilateral action on climate change when solidarity and compromise will be crucial. Fighting for a Europe that acts on climate change means fighting for a progressive, socially focused and united Europe. 2019 is a crucial year for that: with Brexit, a new Parliament, new Commission come into force, and a new multi-year financial framework to be finalised. together with the upgrade of the Union`s climate targets. In 2019 Europeans will ask the climate movement indirectly or directly, whether it is an ally in their daily struggles, or not, and will cast their vote accordingly. 2019 is an opportunity for us to redefine what climate action means in Europe, by boldly answering the question `who should pay?` and gain new allies and comrades for our fight.