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Editorial: Climate change just notched a win in Europe

The Editors, Bloomberg Opinion on

Published in Science & Technology News

The European Union’s efforts to combat climate change have suffered an electoral blow. Its centrist leaders need to wake up before this setback clears the way for an environmental catastrophe.

Five years ago, voters in European Parliament elections demanded action to fight global warming. Now the “green wave” has subsided. In the latest elections, hard-right populist groups won more than a quarter of seats, up from about a fifth in the outgoing Parliament — in part by opposing the EU’s environmental policy and portraying its authors as elitist and out of touch. Support for Green candidates slid to 7% from 10%.

What happened? One can’t accuse the EU’s leaders of ignoring climate change. On the contrary, they’ve put Europe at the forefront of the global green transition. They adopted the Green Deal pledge, which aims to eliminate net carbon emissions by 2050. They stuck with renewable-friendly energy-market reforms even amid the shock of Russia’s war in Ukraine. They accelerated carbon dioxide reductions under what is already the world’s largest cap-and-trade system. And they introduced a new tax on carbon-intensive imports, employing the EU’s power as a trading partner to influence climate policy beyond its borders.

Meanwhile, far-right parties that once focused on immigration discovered the environment as an issue to exploit. They latched on to farmers’ protests, amplifying frustration with policies aimed at ensuring animal welfare, preserving the land’s productivity and reducing agricultural emissions. They notched electoral gains by fanning consumers’ concerns about the costs of green technologies — such as heat pumps in Germany. Taking down the Green Deal is among their top priorities in the European Parliament’s next term.

The EU’s centrists are making concessions. They’ve begun abandoning or diluting plans to tighten environmental standards, including on heating systems and vehicle emissions. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, of the center-right European People’s Party, has stepped back from the green agenda she championed and seems willing to work with climate-policy skeptics in the European Conservatives and Reformists Party.

Mere appeasement won't coax voters back into the mainstream: If anything, it will cause more radicalization — just as catering to xenophobia strengthens far-right parties rather than easing concerns about immigration. Centrists committed to a united and prosperous Europe can’t prevail by partnering with those dedicated to its fragmentation.

 

On climate, Europe and the world must do more, not less. Keeping global warming below 2C means investing trillions of euros. Success would deliver commensurate benefits, and failure would be disastrous. European voters do still seem to recognize this: Climate remains a top concern, and those who care about it mostly think the EU hasn’t done enough. It’s a challenge that requires collective action, precisely what EU institutions are for.

How, then, to proceed? Where the far right takes power, as it might soon in the French parliament, it’ll have to answer for itself. But as long as centrist parties are in charge — and they still command a majority in the European Parliament — they must stay the course on climate. That means doing what’s necessary to reach net zero while being more forthright about the costs and distributing them as fairly as possible. Expand carbon pricing to cover more emissions, and use the revenue to ease tax burdens. Dedicate EU-level funds and unify capital markets to support new public and private investment. Develop a better safety net to protect the most vulnerable.

If Europe’s mainstream politicians, particularly on the center right, care about their future, they won’t give up the fight against climate change.

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The Editorial Board publishes the views of the editors across a range of national and global affairs.


©2024 Bloomberg L.P. Visit bloomberg.com/opinion. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

 

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