Politicians must not and must not ignore climate change

UN Secretary-General António Guterres has insisted that all countries must “massively accelerate climate efforts”. But can our notoriously short-term democratic politics be up to the task when elections keep coming up?

In the EU, and also in the UK, there is a clear right-wing backlash against a range of climate policies, while in most, but not all, cases not denying the fact of dangerous climate change. In Scotland, too, there is a risk that a heated debate on the SNP-Green coalition will, intentionally or unintentionally, give in to this climate backlash to green politics.

On a positive note, the EU has been very active in recent years. The European Green Deal was launched in 2019. Much has been done since then, from a carbon border tax to be introduced in three years, to legally binding targets for reducing carbon emissions to 55% of 1990 levels by 2030 and reaching net zero by 2050.

In light of President Biden’s $369 billion climate and energy package earlier this year, the EU was also quick to relax its rules against corporate subsidies. But as EU Economic Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni said recently, many billions more will be needed.

Read more: Humza Yousaf has taken a more credible stance on Europe than Sturgeon

But the backlash from the right wing in the EU was all too evident this summer. The EU’s nature law was only passed by the European Parliament in July after fierce opposition from the European People’s Party (EPP), Europe’s largest centre-right grouping. The EPP played off its electoral base, particularly the agricultural lobby. In the course of enforcement, the law was watered down significantly – climate activist Greta Thunberg called it a “bittersweet” moment.

Now the law must undergo further dialogue between EU institutions before it can be finally agreed – and that must be done before next May’s elections produce a new European Parliament, possibly a more right-wing one.

Politics in each of the 27 EU member states is another crucial part of the mix. In Spain, the far-right Vox party lost votes in July’s general election as its rejection of urgent and vital climate action in favor of some sort of econationalist patriotism failed to win the election. But despite Spain facing major challenges to its agriculture and country, including increasing desertification, climate change was not a major issue in July’s elections.

Other problems are brewing in other EU countries. In Germany there is a dispute over plans to ban new oil and gas heating systems in the next two years. In the Netherlands in March, a populist peasant-citizen movement caused a stir, winning 20% ​​in regional elections. Ireland, too, now has a populist farmers’ alliance. Italy’s far-right Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has described the EU’s Green Deal as “climate fundamentalism” while emphasizing the role of business. Meanwhile, French President Emmanuel Macron shocked many in May when he called for a pause on new EU climate laws – to allow implementation, he added.

But time is pressing. And in Europe and globally, delaying climate action will quickly do more damage and make the path to fast and deep emissions reductions ever more difficult.

None of this caught on with British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. From granting 100 more North Sea oil and gas licenses to delaying a review of the state of England’s rivers until 2025, short-term electoral advantage – or presumably the aim of losing less badly – seems to be the driver for the UK government.

In elections, it could do the opposite. Mr Sunak risks losing conservative voters who care about the environment. In contrast, Sir Keir Starmer’s Labor Party has said it will halt all new oil and gas licences. But it won’t ruin Mr. Sunak’s new franchise jamboree. Despite the resulting emissions, the development of the Rosebank oil and gas field will not be halted either.

And Sir Keirhas has rejected his biggest climate plan: to spend £28billion a year on green jobs and businesses. Instead, these may begin in the middle of a Labor government. But given the key climate targets in 2030, postponing climate spending to 2027 is literally playing with fire.

Read more: Could Starmer do another U-turn and rejoin the EU single market?

Humza Yousaf said last week the climate emergency is “the greatest existential problem” facing the planet. A draft biodiversity strategy that is currently being worked on is said to be extremely ambitious. And the Scottish Government has set big climate targets, including reducing emissions by 75% by 2030. But Scotland is currently not on track to meet that target.

The SNP also reluctantly says it will not oppose Rosebank, but aptly says there must be a quicker and fairer transition away from oil and gas. Meanwhile, the Scottish Government’s Highly Protected Marine Areas strategy has failed and the deposit return scheme has been delayed.

The reluctance of Labor and the SNP shows that electoral calculations not only affect right-wing parties, but that the right are proven to be the worst offenders. It is clear that green strategies need to involve local communities. And criticism of parties and governments, including the SNP-Green coalition, is central to our democracy. But we urgently need green policies and measures, no matter who is in power. And Scottish politicians should be reluctant to get too close to Italy’s Giorgia Meloni, who dramatically claimed last year that “ecology has been militarily occupied by the left.”

Over the weekend, Scottish author Kathleen Jamie launched a group of natural and creative writers called the Paper Boat Writers to denounce the failings of national and global leaders on the climate crisis. She declared: “If they fail to take serious and sustainable action. When it comes to climate change, they will no longer have our support.” Ultimately, it’s up to all of us, artists or not, our politicians on this one most pressing of challenges to account.

Grace Reader

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