The growing ‘greenlash’ against Europe’s environmental agenda has yet to derail its decarbonisation plans, but the upcoming elections could put future climate and environmental measures at risk.
The European Union (EU) has stepped up its role as a leader on climate change, incorporating carbon reduction targets into law and proposing policies to reduce emissions this decade.
And so far the impact of the green backlash has been limited, say policymakers and analysts, because most of Europe’s main CO2-cutting policies have been set by law.
But as policymakers seek to translate net-zero targets into measures that go beyond electrification to areas such as buildings and transportation, they face growing resistance as citizens struggle. in a cost-of-living crisis.
Outrage over a law to phase out heating oil and gas brought Germany’s ruling coalition close to collapse, while in the Netherlands, anger over plans to cut nitrogen pollution led to a shock poll victory for a new peasant protest party.
Analysts say politicians are increasingly worried about the cost of green policies ahead of regional, national and EU elections in the next year and a half.
“These are certainly different circumstances than in 2019 when we started with this maximum support and the political willingness to act from … across parties,” European Environment Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevicius told Reuters.
Politicians should take into account polls showing that most citizens are concerned about climate change and strong business interests behind the green transition.
“We have this strong majority that supports the green deal,” he said, referring to the European Parliament’s level of support for the EU’s overall green agenda.
“But then we come to the more difficult files (EU legal proposals) where I think, inevitably, they are very affected by the political debate,” added Sinkevicius.
As a result, officials say it will be harder to pass green laws, with some EU governments resisting new emissions limits for cars and seeking to loosen controls on pollution for livestock farms. A proposal to improve the energy efficiency of buildings is facing pushback from countries concerned about the cost.
The Polish government, which faces elections in October, is even suing Brussels over its climate policies.
“Does the EU want to make authoritarian decisions about what kind of cars Poles drive?” its Climate and Environment Minister Anna Moskwa asked last month.
Environmental conservation measures face more opposition than decarbonization due to lobbying by the powerful agricultural sector and the lack of strong business incentives for change, says Nathalie Tocci , director of the Italian international relations think tank Istituto Affari Internazionali.
Although a recent campaign by the center-right European People’s Party, the largest group in the European Parliament, to kill a proposed law to restore damaged environments failed, the proposal seems set diluted.
“Next year’s European Parliament elections will be very decisive if one looks ahead, because the center-right group is more negative towards green policies,” the European Council on Foreign Relations’ Mats Engström said.
Trust the Green Investor
Another concern is the impact on Europe’s diplomatic standing and investor confidence, which comes as the United States offers multi-billion-dollar green subsidies and tax breaks.
“It’s a little ironic that Europe is having these problems when the United States is finally getting its act together,” said Bob Ward, director of policy and communications at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change. and Environment at the London School of Economics and Political Science.
Ward said Europe is in danger of falling behind India and China in building green industries and technologies.
Last year, India increased its solar capacity by 28%, outpacing the capacity growth of European heavyweights.
“If Europe hesitates, it will allow other countries to take advantage of international markets for electric vehicles and other technologies,” said Ward.
Britain has quickly gone from being a leader on the world stage to being seen as weak on green policies, he said.
Britain’s climate advisers said in June that the country was not doing enough to meet its 2050 net zero target, while a government-commissioned review found that businesses complained of weaknesses in Britain’s investment environment.
The development of UK onshore and offshore wind has been hampered by rule changes, for example, prompting some developers to warn that they will find it difficult to invest without better incentives.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who faces an election in 18 months, last month warned about climate policies that “should not give people more trouble and more costs. “
Green policies in Europe are more reliable than those in the US, given the view between election cycles in the United States, some analysts say.
But EU politicians need to address the many concerns of citizens and businesses if they want to maintain support as they legislate in sectors closer to home.
Dutch Minister for Climate and Energy Policy Rob Jetten told Reuters in June that the main challenge for the next few years is to show politicians that the green transition is one, with support available. for those in need.
Lines of green policies pushed right-wing populist parties to second place in Dutch and German polls.
The debacle of the German heating law highlights the importance of ensuring that green laws can be transferred without overwhelming anyone, Nina Scheer, climate protection spokeswoman for the ruling Social Democrats in parliament, said.
“Otherwise, citizens may start to feel that climate policy is always too financial and bad, and that sentiment is exploited by populists.”
Creating a strong green industrial policy is essential, says Simone Tagliapietra, Senior Fellow at the think-tank Bruegel.
“If we don’t create green jobs in Europe, if we don’t make sure we have these industrial and economic opportunities, we will be in trouble,” Tagliapietra said.
(Reporting by Kate Abnett in Brussels, Sarah Marsh in Berlin and Gloria Dickie in London; additional reporting by Anthony Deutsch in Amsterdam, Angelo Amante in Rome, Pawel Florkiewicz in Warsaw, Susanna Twidale and William James in London; editing by Alexnder Smith)
Pollution in Europe