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.
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.
Source : Euobserver