The Progressive Post

Navigating the greenlash

Putting people at the heart of climate action in Europe

Secretary General of SOLIDAR

In recent months, a coordinated backlash against much-needed climate action – dubbed the ‘greenlash’ – has gained momentum across Europe. Emboldened by conservative forces and exacerbated by the cost-of-living crisis and the war in Ukraine, this movement continues to gain traction despite the fact that climate action is a high priority for Europeans.

In the coming months, the European Parliament and the European Commission are likely to face increasing challenges in taking climate policy forward. Conservatives seem poised to challenge or dilute the ambitious goals laid out in the European Green Deal, increasingly framing ‘green’ policies as costly and detrimental to Europeans and businesses. The far right is not missing an opportunity to exploit climate action as an easy target for negative PR campaigns and identity politics, stirring fears of economic instability and lifestyle changes. These shared political efforts threaten the progress that has been made and hinder Europe’s progress towards sustainability.

The most credible way to counter the growing popular support for these reactionary policies is through a more people-centred approach to climate and environmental action. Rather than focusing solely on abstract emissions targets, we should underscore the local, immediate and long-term benefits of sustainable policies. By reframing and repositioning climate action in terms of tangible improvements for the daily lives of people everywhere and by placing people at the heart of our strategies, for example, through a green and social deal for Europe and the world, we can regain momentum and maintain broad public support. 

Public transport network improvement

A well-connected, close-knit public transport network not only eases movement within cities, regions or countries, but also delivers significant environmental gains. Efficient public transportation reduces traffic congestion and improves air quality by cutting down on vehicle emissions. Additionally, it makes urban areas more accessible and liveable, reducing the reliance on private vehicles. For example, the expansion of Germany’s €9 public transit ticket provided an affordable and sustainable travel option, leading to a notable reduction in pollution during the pilot programme. Public transport is free nationwide in Luxembourg, and Malta and locally in Tallinn in Estonia and Valencia, Spain. By emphasising convenience and affordability, such initiatives directly benefit people while contributing to climate goals at the same time. Any restriction on private vehicles must, therefore, be accompanied by investments in public transport so that the trade-off is visible and credible.

Home insulation for energy efficiency

Insulating homes delivers multifaceted benefits. It keeps residents warm in winter and cool in summer, reducing dependence on heating and cooling systems. This directly translates to lower energy bills, helping alleviate the cost-of-living crisis for millions. Improved insulation also reduces energy consumption, lowering emissions associated with heating and cooling. Moreover, energy-efficient housing increases property values and creates jobs in the construction and retrofitting sectors, illustrating how sustainable development can have broad economic benefits. In Seville, the POWERTY project provided energy efficiency improvements to six multi-family residential buildings comprised of 71 social rented households. Two years after the retrofit, it was calculated that the initial costs of the energy efficiency investment were almost completely recovered, with a net gain of €43,473 calculated after three years. Any increases in energy costs should, therefore, as much as possible, be preceded by public support to homeowners and property companies, while protecting tenants from ensuing price increases.

Fostering equality

Decarbonisation strategies and measures can contribute to addressing social inequalities based on gender, age, ethnicity, ability, geography and other factors, while supporting people in vulnerable economic situations at the same time. Spain’s just transition strategy, for example, promotes gender equality in coal regions and the energy sector, traditionally male-dominated. As a result of the gender equality incentives promoted in its business projects, 40 per cent of the created jobs have gone to women. The Finnish government has carried out a human rights impact assessment of legislative reforms and amended the Climate Act to include the rights of persons with disabilities in both the consultation phase and the impact assessment. France’s zero long-term unemployment zones offer job opportunities to anyone who has been unemployed for at least a year. The XIII avenir, one of these zero unemployment zones, is located in Paris and provides services such as small repairs, carpentry, a helping hand for the elderly, local deliveries and more to those who live and work in the area. Any climate and environmental action should be accompanied by a socioeconomic impact assessment and by measures that aim to tackle the inequalities that are connected to it.

The European Green Deal remains indispensable in tackling climate change, pollution and biodiversity loss, but its future is at risk. As conservatives gear up to challenge green policies in the next European Parliament and Commission mandates, a focus on people-centred climate action is crucial. It is time to dispel the myth that climate action is a burden and instead highlight how well-planned and implemented sustainable policies directly improve lives and benefit all. The co-benefits are clear and include cleaner air, lower energy costs, better mobility and more jobs. Through a just and inclusive transition, we can ensure that Europeans understand the immediate and long-term benefits of embracing a sustainable future.

Photo Credits: Shutterstock/IlonaLablaika

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