Summary of the day
Germany’s vice-chancellor, Robert Habeck, has called on supporters of environmental reforms to shed their reputation for “moral superiority” and focus on having “the better arguments” amid a backlash against climate policies across Europe.
The European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, argued in a speech in Prague that Europe’s Green Deal goes hand in hand with prosperous industry.
Scientists said they are worried that the political consensus to protect the environment in Europe is crumbling.
After Emmanuel Macron announced a road map for his new “French-style” ecology on Monday night, there was soul-searching in the media and criticism from Greens who said he should have been more radical.
Bas Eickhout, a vice-chair of the European parliament’s environment committee, said that the fatigue with Europe’s green agenda is partly due to a faulty piecemeal approach to new policies.
Six young people from Portugal are expected to present a case before the European court of human rights tomorrow arguing that countries are breaching their rights by failing to do enough on climate change.
Robert Habeck wants the world’s fourth-largest economy to be a global leader in renewable energy, but virtually every new climate measure that he has launched this year has quickly become bogged down.
Failure is a relatively novel experience for Habeck.
A year earlier, fresh in his new job as Germany’s deputy leader, pollsters declared him the country’s most likable and competent politician. His smiling face was all over the newsstands and headlines were hailing him as “the true chancellor”. A year later, in July, he was one of the most unpopular politicians in the government, and those same newspapers were asking if he was going to resign.
Habeck is trying to transform green politics. No longer content with his party being a protest movement or a junior coalition partner, he wants the Greens to become used to life as a major political force, comfortable with their hands on the levers of power. His success or failure will be a bellwether for the future of mainstream green politics across the world.
Check out the full long read on the trials of Robert Habeck: is the world’s most powerful green politician doomed to fail?
Piecemeal approach to green deal a mistake, parliamentarian says
Bas Eickhout, a vice-chair of the European parliament’s environment committee, said today that the fatigue with Europe’s green agenda is partly due to a faulty piecemeal approach to new policies.
In a phone interview with the Guardian, the Dutch green parliamentarian said that “Europe really has made progress” on climate and energy. But, he stressed, “from the start, the Green Deal has always been more than climate.”
“You see now even [European Commission president Ursula] von der Leyen is a bit backtracking … you see that on circularity and on zero pollution she’s much more silent,” he said, adding that “we all know that if you want to meet your climate neutrality, you will have to create a circular economy.”
“From the start,” Eickhout said, Europe had “a bit of the piecemeal approach to the different files” and now some people feel they “need to have a break.”
“I think that’s really one of the problems we’re having at the moment,” he said.
“The backlash is now so big,” the Dutch politician said, that on air quality “we hardly make any improvements.” And that, he said, is “really a problem.”
“Air quality is still one of the big negative impacts of our economy. So we need to solve that.”
Experts weigh in
Scientists are also worried that the political consensus to protect the environment in Europe is crumbling.
“There is a huge backlash against every component of the Green Deal,” said Guy Pe’er of the Helmholtz-Centre for Environmental Research. “The political framework seems to be incredibly unsupportive of much-needed changes.”
In July, the European parliament narrowly voted through a key law to protect nature after months of fierce debate and an opposition campaign that was criticised for misinformation. Pe’er was the lead author of an open letter signed by 6,000 scientists that said opponents lacked scientific evidence and even contradicted it.
“Given the very strong evidence of the severity of the biodiversity crisis… it should have been a no-brainer to approve the nature restoration law,” said Pe’er. “Instead, what we are seeing is that it barely passed approval in the parliament, and with amendments that are so destructive.”
The European People’sparty (EPP), the centre-right grouping to which the commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, belongs, has recently broken with its historical support for her Green Deal project. While its MEPs had previously sought to water down rules they saw as a threat to farmers and industry, in recent votes they have opposed them altogether.
The parliament voted earlier this month to bring its air quality limits in line with the World Health Organization’s guidelines but delayed the move till 2035 in a compromise proposal after backlash from the EPP. The group’s environment spokesperson Peter Liese said there was “a new risk of driving bans and even the closure of construction sites and industrial plants.”
Zorana Jovanovic Andersen, an epidemiologist at the University of Copenhagen and chair of the environment committee at the European Respiratory Society (ERS), said: “We hear the same old arguments that cleaning up the air will hurt economies around Europe, that workers and farmers will lose their jobs, which we cannot afford. In fact, the opposite is true.”
A European Commission report last year found the net benefits of fully aligning with the WHO guidelines would save society €38bn-€123bn each year by 2030.
“The lure of populism and the hope of short-term electoral gain has motivated a backlash against the Green Deal,” said Brian Ward, also from the ERS. “The rejection of scientific evidence and non-partisan life saving measures, such as the air quality directive, has become mainstream. By not acting, much more damage will be done to the economy in the long run.”
View from Rome
The Italian industries minister, Adolfo Urso, welcomed an agreement among EU member states on watered-down proposed rules on vehicle emissions, saying “reason had finally prevailed over ideology”.
Italy, led by a far-right government whose environmental strategy is somewhat vague, is also among the member states pushing for the EU’s 2030 air quality targets to be loosened.
Urso credited “the Italian line of responsibility and pragmatism” for putting “the Euro 7 dossier on the right path”.
He described the approach as “to combine the transition towards electric [vehicles] with the needs of European citizens, workers and businesses.”
“We succeeded with a large majority, and this comforts us for the next dossiers,” he added.
Giorgio Maione, environment councillor for Lombardy, one of the industrialised northern Italian regions that falls within the vast Po Valley – among most polluted geographical areas in Europe – recently told the Guardian that his region had made good progress in recent years to reduce pollution.
However, he said the Po Valley region, which include Piedmont, Veneto and Emilia Romagna, were at a disadvantage due to being naturally prone to pollution owing to being far from the coastline, flanked by mountains and having little wind, therefore making it impossible to reach the EU’s 2030 targets.
“We’re not against the objectives, we are asking for a different approach, such as extending the timeframe,” Maione said. “Even the EU says that the goal is not technologically achievable today, even with the best existing technologies, without stopping use of all cars, closing businesses and all of our production activities and eliminating livestock.”
Christel Schaldemose, a Danish social democrat and member of the European parliament, is speaking out against an agreement among EU government on vehicle emissions.
“The Euro 7 proposal is an opportunity to improve air quality across Europe,” she said in an emailed statement this afternoon.
“Trucks and cars are polluting the air we breathe. Air pollution is the biggest health threat for citizens in Europe,” the Danish politician said, adding however that the “council let that opportunity pass” and “the consequences will be enormous.”
The member states’ compromise proposal, agreed yesterday, “is not worthy of the name Euro 7,” Schaldemose added.
“They are only introducing tweaks and small changes to the current air pollution standards. With this approach, we risk falling behind our competitors in the US and China. They will have higher standards in the future.”
The European Union must begin a major wave of change to prepare for the arrival of Ukraine as a member state, the leader of its parliament has said, with “nothing off the table”, including removing trade tariffs and giving Kyiv access to internal markets before full membership.
Speaking exclusively to the Guardian, Roberta Metsola, an MEP from Malta who became the European parliament’s youngest ever president last year, said she expected member states to begin formal negotiations with Ukraine as soon as December.
“If they are going fast, we should match that speed,” she urged.
Ukraine had a population of 44 million before war broke out, has a vast agricultural sector and war damages estimated at $411bn (£338bn) even before the devastation caused by the destruction of the Kakhovka dam.
As the European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, made clear in her state of the union address, Ukraine cannot be assimilated without a shake-up of the EU itself, including a new agreement between members on how to raise and distribute funds.
“Of course the economic model that we have today is not one that would survive with 32 or 33 [member states]. But now is when we need to have that conversation. We’ve already started in the parliament,” said Metsola.
Read the full story.
View from Paris
After Emmanuel Macron announced a road map for his new “French-style” ecology on Monday night, there was soul-searching in the media and criticism from Greens who said he should have been more radical.
France has pledged to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 55% by 2030, compared with 1990 levels. To achieve that, the country will need to do more in the next seven years than it has done in the past 33 years.
Macron’s road map for achieving this saw him tread a customary tight-rope between contradictory ideas.
On the one hand, the climate crisis is so serious that it requires a re-think of the way we live, but on the other this must be done without threatening the economy, industry or farming. Above all, there must be protections for low-income car-dependent households who are already struggling against inflation and who are increasingly being courted by the far right.
After the gilets jaunes anti-government protests of 2018-2019 which began over fuel tax, Macron wanted to send a message that protecting the planet was an opportunity for economic growth, not a punishment or sacrifice: jobs would be created through new projects, such as the creation of suburban train lines in at least 13 cities including Toulouse and Lille.
French newspapers decided that France was right to set out a budgeted environmental road map for the coming years in order to hold to account players from from local government to industry.
But many commentators highlighted the gap between Macron’s previous slogans, such as “make this planet great again” in 2017, and the fact that France had historically struggled to meet its targets.
The Greens said Macron had previously sent contradictory messages – for example by first suggesting the weedkiller glyphosate should be banned at the start of his presidency, then changing tack, and now saying its use should be reduced by 30%.
On the far right, the National Rally leader, Marine Le Pen, said on France Inter radio that “no one understood anything” about the climate plan.
Le Monde said in an editorial: “At the moment when Germany, the UK or Sweden are obliged to soften their climate agenda by going back on measures that were not well-accepted by the public, Emmanuel Macron is trying to move forward without antagonising. He has made the choice of inciting rather than constraining people, in order to mobilise widely. However he’s taking the risk of a transition that is slower, and could get stuck halfway.”
Europe’s banks helped fossil fuel firms raise more than €1tn from global bond markets
Banks including some of Europe’s largest lenders have helped fossil fuel companies to raise more than €1tn (£869bn) from the global bond markets since the Paris climate agreement, according to an investigation by the Guardian and its reporting partners.
In the push to zero carbon Europe’s biggest lenders face growing pressure to limit their financial support for fossil fuel companies through direct loans and other financing facilities.
But analysis of thousands of transactions since 2016, when more than 190 countries agreed at a UN summit in Paris to limit global warming by curbing pollution, has revealed that lenders including Deutsche Bank, HSBC and Barclays have continued to profit from the expansion of oil, gas and coal by supporting the sale of fossil fuel bonds.
The findings have raised concerns among sustainable investment campaigners that banks are continuing to offer “hidden” financial support to energy companies that are responsible for increasing the world’s carbon emissions – even as they pledge publicly to phase out direct lending for new projects.
Read the full story here.
Nuclear power ‘extremely important’, Czech leader says
The Czech prime minister, Petr Fiala, underscored today his country’s commitment to nuclear power.
“The Czech Republic will need more nuclear reactors in the future,” he said.
More from NGO Transport and Environment’s Anna Krajinska, who criticised EU governments’ compromise decision yesterday on pollution standards for cars, vans and trucks.
“The fight to secure an effective Euro 7 is a reminder of the political and economic power of the car industry,” Krajinska told the Guardian in an email this morning.
“Since 2019, the EU has agreed some of the world’s most ambitious climate and environmental policies, a programme this ambitious will always solicit a reactionary response,” she noted, adding that “we are already seeing fierce debates over some policies, with populists on the left and right seeking to turn this into political opportunity.”
“While there is talk of ‘green fatigue’, the climate problem and public concerns over the environment won’t easily be swept under the carpet,” Krajinska said.
“Instead of questioning already agreed regulations, policymakers and Member States need to focus on implementing these regulations swiftly and effectively to ensure that Europe delivers on it Green Deal commitments.”
Latest from Stockholm
In Sweden, the government is facing a huge backlash after the announcement of last week’s budget, in which it slashed climate funding while admitting to dramatically increasing carbon dioxide emissions.
The minority run coalition, led by the Moderate party’s Ulf Kristersson, said on Wednesday that it would be cutting funding for climate and environmental measures next year by 259m krona (£19m) and introducing tax cuts on petrol and diesel. The changes mean the government is expected to miss its 2030 transport targets.
Since then, the government has faced heavy criticism from other parties – including, sources told the Guardian, from within the ruling coalition – and the Centre party, a leading opposition group, threatened the government with an ultimatum.
If the government does not deliver a climate action plan before Christmas, Rickard Nordin, the Centre party’s climate and energy spokesperson, said they would issue the Liberal climate and energy minister, Romina Pourmokhtari, with a motion of no confidence. The minister has yet to respond to the threat.
Commission chief praises watered-down vehicle emissions compromise
Ursula von der Leyen, the EU Commission president, today welcomed an agreement among EU governments on rules for vehicle emissions.
The deal, reached on Monday, concerns the so-called Euro 7 pollution standards for cars, vans and trucks.
Speaking in Prague alongside the Czech prime minister, Petr Fiala, Von der Leyen called the agreement a “good compromise”, adding that the deal “is a solid one and I think we can move on the basis of this compromise”.
The Czech Republic led a push to water down elements of the new standards, together with a group of seven other EU governments.
“A group of eight like-minded countries under the leadership of succeeded during intensive negotiations to modify the Regulation so that it does not jeopardise the competitiveness of industry,” the Czech representation to the bloc said on Monday.
Spain’s acting minister for industry, trade and tourism, Héctor Gómez Hernández, said in a statement that “our position is to continue the path of leading the mobility of the future and adopting realistic emissions levels for the vehicles of the next decade while helping our industry make the definitive leap towards clean cars in 2035.”
Spain, which holds the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union, “has been sensitive to the different demands and requests of the member states and we believe that, with this proposal, we achieved broad support, a balance in the investment costs of the manufacturing brands and we improve the environmental benefits derived from the regulation,” he said.
But not everyone is happy.
“The council position on Euro 7 is a disaster for air quality putting carmakers record profits ahead of people’s health,” said Anna Krajinska, vehicle emissions and air quality manager at the NGO Transport & Environment.
“Instead of reducing pollution it will greenwash today’s polluting Euro 6 cars as ‘clean’ Euro 7 vehicles,” she said, adding: “Policymakers in the parliament have the final opportunity to set a meaningful Euro 7 regulation. They should not squander it for the sake of everyone’s health.”
‘Leading the way’: Young people to present climate case before top court
Six young people from Portugal are expected to present a case before the European court of human rights tomorrow arguing that countries are breaching their rights by failing to do enough on climate change. The youngest in the group is Mariana Agostinho, who is only 11.
“As in many other places, young people are leading the way and demonstrating that there are legal avenues through which climate justice can be achieved,” said Mandi Mudarikwa, Amnesty International’s head of strategic litigation.
“This case is hugely significant but is only one of several underway to ensure that everyone’s right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment is protected.”
“Like so many others around the world, the applicants are already directly experiencing health impacts from climate change as increasing heat extremes have restricted their ability to spend time outdoors, exercise, sleep and concentrate properly,” Mudarikwa said, adding that “some also suffer from conditions like asthma, worsened by lower air quality caused by extreme heat, forest fires and emissions from burning fossil fuels.”
EU and China agree to develop circular economy roadmap
Brussels and Beijing have agreed to jointly develop a cooperation roadmap on the circular economy, the EU announced today.
“The aim is to complete the roadmap in the coming months so as to start its rollout in 2024,” according to a European Commission statement.
Virginijus Sinkevičius, the bloc’s commissioner for environment, oceans and fisheries, met in Beijing today with Zhao Chenxin, vice-chair of China’s National Development and Reform Commission for a discussion on circular economy issues, including plastics and batteries.
“The EU and China share the same vision that a transition to a sustainable, efficient, circular economy is both necessary and possible,” Sinkevičius said in a statement. “This transition will create new jobs and greater prosperity,” he said, adding: “We are at the forefront of action and can be of example to other countries.”
The prospects of the world staying within the 1.5C limit on global heating have brightened owing to the “staggering” growth of renewable energy and green investment in the past two years, the chief of the world’s energy watchdog has said.
Fatih Birol, the executive director of the International Energy Agency, and the world’s foremost energy economist, said much more needed to be done but that the rapid uptake of solar power and electric vehicles were encouraging.
“Despite the scale of the challenges, I feel more optimistic than I felt two years ago,” he said in an interview. “Solar photovoltaic installations and electric vehicle sales are perfectly in line with what we said they should be, to be on track to reach net zero by 2050, and thus stay within 1.5C. Clean energy investments in the last two years have seen a staggering 40% increase.”
But Birol also noted that greenhouse gas emissions from the energy sector were “still stubbornly high”, and that the extreme weather seen around the world this year had shown the climate was already changing “at frightening speed”.
The IEA, in a report entitled Net Zero Roadmap, published on Tuesday morning, also called on developed countries with 2050 net zero targets, including the UK, to bring them forward by several years.
Read the full story here.
During a trip to China, the EU’s environment commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius underscored that a global water crisis is looming, worsened by climate change. He wants to see more collaboration.
Green Deal designed for 'prosperity', EU commission chief says amid backlash
European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen made the case today that Europe’s Green Deal goes hand in hand with prosperous industry.
Speaking at a conference in Prague at a time when Europe is grappling with a backlash against climate policies, the commission chief said that “the European Green Deal was born out of the necessity to protect people and the planet, but it was also designed as an opportunity to build our future prosperity”.
Von der Leyen, a German centre-right politician who is expected to seek a second term as commission president, underlined that “we have successfully reduced greenhouse gas emissions while growing our economy”.
She told the Czech crowd that their local industry benefits from the energy transition and climate-friendly policies, pointing out that some buses in Prague are starting to be powered by hydrogen – and that this new generation of buses are produced by Czech manufacturer Škoda.
There is “an immense potential” for Czech industry, she said, while also highlighting that the green deal provides “predictability” for companies.
Continuing on the theme that green investment is good for business, Von der Leyen also said that “renewable energy is not only good for our planet, but it is homegrown, it creates good jobs here and it is good for our energy independence and security”.
And she directly addressed the Czech coal industry.
“I know that many local communities are concerned about their future, because thousands of people work in lignite mines and in the coal sector,” the commission president said, and this is why we should “make it our utmost priority under the European Green Deal to invest in those regions, to ease the transformation”.
Europe is launching a new series of dialogues with industry to address the Green Deal and global challenges, she added.
Greens must shed ‘moral superiority’ image, says German vice-chancellor
Germany’s vice-chancellor has called on supporters of environmental reforms to shed their reputation for “moral superiority” and focus on having “the better arguments” amid a backlash against climate policies across Europe.
Robert Habeck, the minister for economic affairs and climate action and a leading Green politician, said environmental parties had to push back against their instincts if they wanted their climate agenda to succeed in the long run.
Historically, he said, the Greens’ problem was “the allegation – and with every allegation that sticks there is a grain of truth – of moral superiority, of always knowing it best”.
“That’s something that dates to the green movement’s origins. To survive as a grassroots movement you have to claim to have access to some higher form of truth that others don’t. But as we Greens are transitioning to something with a broader political appeal, we are working to reduce that claim to truth and have the better arguments instead.”
Habeck’s struggles mirror similar developments in the Netherlands, where anger at plans to cut nitrogen pollution led to a shock poll win for a new farmers’ protest party, and Britain, where the prime minister, Rishi Sunak, announced a U-turn on some of the government’s climate commitments.
Read the full story.
Good morning and welcome back to the Europe live blog.
Today we will be delving into the latest on Europe’s green policies – and the backlash against them.
From Central Europe to the Netherlands to the UK, voters and policymakers are grappling with a growing debate about the pace and implications of policies intended to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and restore nature.
And with key elections in sight, a number of political parties have already made U-turns on the green agenda. Meanwhile, activists and experts worry that ambition is being watered down.
As always, send comments to email@example.com.