Where is the environment in the campaign for the European elections?

Policies surrounding the environment and sustainability form a large part of the concerns of Europeans. However, in political debates during these European elections the discussion has not happened yet.

We’ve all seen it in many European cities; young people have been demonstrating against climate change. These are young people whose futures will be marked by climate change and an uncertainty which has generated indifference and inaction from their governments to take clear and cooperative steps.

Yet is not because Europeans are uninterested the issue, far more do than just the handful of school children marching in the streets. To the contrary: according to the latest polling from YouGov carried out for El País,climate change is the second-largest concern for European citizens. 29% of Europeans rank environmental reform as the main European issue, coming only behind immigration (the primary concern of 35% of Europeans).

Furthermore, these environmental concerns are evident in surveys done by VoxEurop for the WeEuropeans initiative published through the French website make.org (through the Fundación Civio in Spain) in which various proposals from European citizens were published, selected from the 1.7 million that participated. Between the ten most popular proposals, four concerned ecology and sustainability. The responses from political parties, at least in theory, support the majority of the said proposals, with different perceptions according to ideology, as would be expected. An issue that should be front and centre of debate is, however, hardly mentioned at all.

All this came a few days after the publication of an article from the WWF and the Global Footprint Network which declared that the EU was now in “ecological deficit” for the rest of the year. The article was published on the 10th May, the same day that European electoral campaigns officially began. The article states that, as of 10th May, the EU had consumed the natural resources available to them annually, in relation to its size and population. It also means that we consume the resources of 2.8 planets each year. WWF has proposed the adoption of a European Sustainability Pact by the European Parliament after the elections, which focuses on the fight against climate change, investment in the sustainable economy, reinforcing the EU’s position as a global leader on this issue and improving institutional governance in the EU to ensure a sustainable transition.

The real problem is that we are too accustomed to treating the European elections more as a debate on national issues, rather than a debate on European ones. The politicians returned to the European Parliament often end up either being unpleasant or those whose careers on the national stage have already come to an end. This electoral campaign is offering up more of the same, and this is no clearer than in environmental debate, something which has, at its core, a need for global discussion. Europe, whose advanced policies should be an example to the rest of the world, should be more ambitious. Greenhouse gases do not respect borders. The only way to fight properly against the climate threat is the permanent inclusion of a climate agenda in European discussion. This is what Europeans are asking for.

This climate agenda faces various obstacles. Member States have different criteria for dealing with it meaning that, in the name of sustainability, some states do without nuclear energy, whilst encouraging the use of other equally polluting energy sources, such as carbon. Furthemore, for some these energy sources represent vital security interests for their country, not to mention the geostrategic implications of the safe provision of this energy supply. This divergence within the EU between national energy policies has also affected the development of renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power. A truly global European strategy requires the adoption of a shared criteria, and the European institutions should be the torchbearers.

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