By Nikolaos Theodosiadis
What will be the most heated issue of the coming decades? Here’s a safe bet. It will be climate change. However, while it may be easy to demand further climate action, paying for it is a different story.
In a sense it already is. Yet despite the contingency, this deal is by no means a new one. To describe something as new would necessitated a precedence upon which to draw our novel conceptualisation, something that never happened with environmentalism. Still, exactly one year ago the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned that the countdown has begun to make unprecedented sweeping changes, from energy consumption, to land and urban distribution and central infrastructure before we ‘cross’ the Rubicon. Therefore, this Green deal must be closed.
This rising tide has mobilised public and private actors with one common goal: fighting climate change. No single group has dominated this forum, however, more than youths. Teenage climate activists such as Greta Thunberg have risen to stardom in a seismic trajectory that has seen them attain celebrity status helping bring green issues to the forefront of world politics. But other than using clever rhetorical ploys to grab the attention of the seemingly frantic Twitter news cycles, the tangible initiatives have been meagre.
The plethora of policy prognoses offered to alleviate these problems have demanded radical, if not extremist, action. The Guardian’s own Phil McDuff removed any pretence when he summarised these sentiments through asserting that “ending climate change requires the end of capitalism.” On a similar tone, Marxist economist Grace Blakeley of the New Statesman was very forthright when she claimed that “the only way to halt climate change is to challenge the logic of capitalism itself.” These voices could not be more wrong.
Climate change and its component outcomes have clearly shifted the interests of the median voter, and most notably amongst youths, towards sustainability and environmental policies, but not at the expense of centrist and liberal ideals. Any measures taken must consider political and economic factors at equal weight to environmental ones. As such market-friendly mechanisms provide the most applicable solutions to these diagnosis.
The phenomenon of youth movements that has swept across the globe demanding climate action has been rightfully stoked with feelings of righteous indignation. But promoting illegal activities and disrupting the daily lives of normal citizens is not the way to achieve this. The actions of organisations of the likes of Extinction Rebellion who engage in excessive forms of civil disobedience such as those that severely disrupted London’s transport system work only to the detriment of public support for green policies.
If the sweeping measures required to deal with the effects of climate change are to be passed, it would obligate young citizens to mobilise vis-à-vis policymaking, right now. The youth activists of today will be the political trailblazers of tomorrow, and this is not a burden that must be taken lightly.
To delivery this outcome, the proposed reforms would have to go beyond maximising economic and environmental efficiency. It would obligate an understanding of the political dimension, too. It is not enough that a policy delivers optimal social distribution of costs and benefits, it must also be adoptable politically and acceptable socially. This mixture is incredibly difficult to achieve in climate policy. These measures create diffuse benefits to future generation, whilst producing immediate real costs to current citizens that reduce their living standards.
The gilet jaunes (yellow jackets) movement provided a sobering illustration of what happens when demands for action do not consider the needs of people. When President Macron moved to tax diesel cars without viable and cheap alternatives available – such as electric cars – that pollute less, a political backlash was naturally provoked. The gilet jaunes movement that shook France over the prolonged period of urban riots saw this tax as an assault on rural and small-town way of life of less well-off French citizens, despite its environmental merit. Its abolition, then, should not come as a surprise.
If youth members want to integrate environmental policies into the forefront of European politics, they must offer balanced and fair actions instead of asking people to use less energy whilst living a more expensive lifestyle without offering them alternatives. This conceptualisation, combined with the proper degree of political shrewdness and pragmatic economic efficiency, the Green deal is neither radical, nor left. It is smart politics.
The endorsement of the European Citizens’ Initiative Fairosene by both youth bodies of the EPP, EDS and YEPP, is a testament to the willingness and commitment of thecenter-right youth to lead the charge on this battle equitably. This reform proposes an end to the tax exemption of highly pollutant aviation fuel and reinvesting the funds on innovation and climate-friendly modes of transportation, a pillar of the Commission’s Green Deal.
These reforms spearheaded by youth activists offer the promise of generous electoral value if dealt with acutely. However, this would mean avoid wasting political capital on measures that risk inefficient and unacceptable outcomes. To achieve this policy objective, we must harness the full power of market solutions as levers of change.
Mainly, the public and private sectors alike must increase spending in research and development exceptionally vis-à-vis green energy in order to achieve previously unforeseen innovation. The youth leaders must champion viable and cheap alternatives to fossil fuels to make them accessible not just for select few, but for the entire world. Unsurprisingly, the Copenhagen Consensus Centre research on climate economics concluded that every dollar spent on research and development for green energy today would save 11$ of damages from climate change effects.
Investing and deploying cutting-edge technological innovations, however, must be complemented with gradual changes to infrastructural and industrial activities. Almost all concrete instruments of capital equipment are replaced naturally on 30-year intervals. As opposed to forcing companies to write off major existing assets which may push costs onto consumers, aiming for decarbonisation over the next 30 years will cost significantly less towards the achievement of the same outcome.
The former Chair of the UK’s Committee on Climate Change Adair Turner succinctly summarised these dynamics. “Once clear prices and regulations are in place, market competition and the profit motive will drive innovation, and economies of scale and learning-curve effects will force down the costs of zero-carbon technologies.”
Mobilising the efforts of young people at present towards this direction would mean that future legislators amongst the current youth ranks would be able to deliver a green and sustainable economy. Thus, allowing market mechanisms advanced by youth dynamism to act as the hammer and anvil upon which carbon neutrality can be forged. The caveat is that action must start now and zero must mean zero.
“Radical” action groups like Extinction Rebellion must refrain from treating climate reform as a fait accompli, politically. The choices facing policymakers today is not between overthrowing capitalism and inaction. Rather, it is between steady reform and inertia. As the influencers of tomorrow’s fate, youths have a duty to make the right choice.
At the forefront of these efforts the EPP family under the leadership of Commission President Ursula von der Leyen will need to stand firm in delivering this Green Deal with strong commitment and uncompromising tenacity. These efforts have been spearheaded by its youth wings of YEPP and the EDS who have ceaselessly developed working papers committed to climate neutrality in transport, infrastructure, and research funding through the newly created Sustainability & Energy working group.
While it may be easy to demand further climate action, paying for it is a different story. Fashionable “radicals” and climate protestors have quickly understood that messages about “smashing” capitalism produce thunderous applauses and positive publicity, yet proposals of quadrupling taxes less so. But youths must steer the climate agenda towards the right direction, not because it is fashionable, but because necessity obligates.
“Inconvenient” truths have never been so convenient, and Europe will not wither on the vine.