Behind the Scenes: Winning green hearts and minds

Behind the Scenes: Winning green hearts and minds
Credit: Damien Gayle / Twitter

BRUSSELS BEHIND THE SCENES

Weekly analysis and untold stories

With SAM MORGAN

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Winning green hearts and minds

Russia’s war on Ukraine, as has become abundantly clear now, has changed the world significantly. It has also opened a relatively narrow window for climate action to be sewn into the fabric of society. But it is closing fast.

Soup has managed to divide people into two camps lately. Those that think climate activists should not vandalise property in order to make a point about global warming and those that think their actions are a smart way to raise awareness.

Throwing cream of tomato at a Van Gogh painting is not meant to convert the undecided to the cause of course but is more designed to grab attention and perhaps reveal to the uninitiated that the art gallery is sponsored by a fossil fuel company, for instance.

This is just a taste of what is to come. Climate breakdown will get worse, its effects—both known and unknown—will disrupt people’s lives. Emotions and tempers will run high and society risks becoming even more polarised.

That is why governments have to act fast and use any political tailwinds they currently enjoy to their advantage. If they delay, not only will too many emissions have been baked into the atmosphere, people just won’t be capable of finding common cause to act.


BRUSSELS BEHIND THE SCENES is a weekly newsletter which brings the untold stories about the characters driving the policies affecting our lives. Analysis not found anywhere else, Sam Morgan helps you make sense of what is happening in Brussels. If you want to receive Brussels behind the scenes straight to your inbox every week, subscribe to the newsletter here.


According to a new comprehensive survey by the European Investment Bank (EIB), the EU’s triple-A rated lender, what Europeans want from the climate and energy transition is not particularly clear cut.

On Ukraine, for example, just 66% believe that Russia’s invasion should accelerate the green transition. That is a majority but not a particularly impressive one, especially if you have been paying attention to all the talk about energy independence and prices.

Indeed, compare that result to the same question asked across the Atlantic in the United States and just 52% (a cursed number if there ever were one) believe climate-friendly policies should be boosted and not mothballed.

The country-by-country EU results also make for interesting viewing. Croatia, the bloc’s newest member and one of its poorest to boot, tops the rankings with 81%. Italy and Hungary are next up with 77%.

More than *three-quarters* of Hungarians believe that Russia’s invasion should turbocharge green policies.

How can that not come as a surprise to anyone that has kept up with Viktor Orban’s non-stop complaining about sanctions and relentless pursuit of fossil fuel purchasing loopholes?

At the foot of the rankings, there are arguably more anomalies. Estonia, Finland and Czechia barely register 50%. For three of the most vocal champions of Ukraine’s resistance against Russian invaders, it doesn’t really add up.

Estonia, remember, recently decided to source all of its electricity from renewable energy by 2030, replacing the previous target of just 40%. This was a direct consequence of Vladimir Putin’s “special military operation”.

Governments, for better or worse, do not always do what their electorate wants them to do. In many scenarios, that is a good thing, because crowd-think rarely makes for effective policymaking.

So there is mixed will to act on climate breakdown but there is will nonetheless. It won’t last forever though. Another crisis of some sort will show up and the door and provide an excuse for governments to pay only half attention to cutting emissions.

People will also get fed up. Remember Covid? And the fatigue of sticking to rules when there were no tangible or immediate results to be had? Climate action risks the same fate unless the authorities kick it up and notch and start showing people the benefits.

Slowly but surely

The EU recorded its first success from its ‘Fit for 55’ package of climate legislation this week, when new standards for cars and vans were agreed by governments and the European Parliament.

It effectively means that the internal combustion engine will be defunct after 2035, as all new vehicles will have to be zero-emission. Loopholes exist and there will be regular reviews but it is a massive step forward.

EU climate diplomats can wave that deal under the noses of other big emitters when they land in Sharm El-Sheikh on 6 November, lauding the emissions-savings it promises and urging their regulators to follow suit.

An even bigger prize with even bigger rewards is also up for grabs later this year. Building performance rules are being reviewed and if designed right could slash the 36% emissions contribution for which the sector is responsible.

Renovations are an amazing test-bed for weaponising public sentiment against climate change. They require effort, time and money but offer perks like improved health, lower bills and society-wide benefits.

If you retrofit the very worst performers first, you also show people what a boon renovations can be when done well. That attracts more support, more investment and before you know it, rates are increasing, emissions are falling and utility bills are becoming cheaper.

Energy ministers rushed through a weak deal at the beginning of this week, so now it is up to the Parliament to agree on something ambitious before talks can then start early next year. It is no understatement to say that the Green Deal hinges on this going well.

Climate scientists now warn that we are well on track to breach the 2 degrees temperature limit by the end of the century even if all the current pledges, promises and policies are implemented, so something really has to change.

Governments need to win the argument that the energy transition is a win for everyone. Climate denialism has mostly been put to the sword, the big best left the slay now says the costs will be too much. They aren’t.

BRUSSELS BEHIND THE SCENES is a weekly newsletter which brings the untold stories about the characters driving the policies affecting our lives. Analysis not found anywhere else, Sam Morgan helps you make sense of what is happening in Brussels. If you want to receive Brussels behind the scenes straight to your inbox every week, subscribe to the newsletter here.


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