The European Elections Are Crucial For The Future Of Our Environment

Scientists say we have five years to change course on climate change. The next European parliament term is five years – they are a matter of life and death
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Five years. Does that sound long or short, to you? How much difference can five years make? It is 6% of your lifetime, if you live as long as the average European. Five years from now, today’s generation of school climate strikers might be graduating from university or starting their first jobs.

Five years is half the time we have left to take political decisions that could “significantly influence the trajectory of the Earth System for tens to hundreds of thousands of years”, according world top scientists. It is also the span of the next European Parliament.

The new European parliamentarians who will be elected this month can take Europe in two distinct directions. As an activist for social and environmental justice, this junction will massively determine what will occupy me, as well as thousands of others around Europe, in the years to come.

On one track, the next half-decade may be spent desperately trying to cling on to the modest gains Europe has made in recent times, as we fend off attacks on freedoms of the press, judiciary and assembly. We will be in permanent defensive mode if the next European Parliament contains more politicians from the right and extreme right who want to challenge EU cooperation and the very basis of open society and democracy.

On the other, if we elect more progressive, internationally-minded politicians, then we have real opportunities to speed-up the transition we need and push forward on sustainability, equality and human rights in Europe and the world.

We know there is massive appetite for change. Three-quarters of Europeans believe that either their national system or the European system (or both) is broken, and two-thirds believe that their children’s lives will be worse than their own. Many people right across the continent are rightly sick of the status quo. The question is, in which direction will the change be?

European politicians have so far dipped a toe in the waters of change – in a rather stale debate about how the European Union will evolve post-Brexit (assuming it happens). This process culminates on Thursday at a summit of prime ministers and presidents in Romania with little tangible expected outcome. Leaders will need to plunge in so much further than they have so far, if they are to ignite voters’ passions for a positive vision of what Europe can be.

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We haven’t got five more years left to lose. To quote young climate leader Greta Thunberg, we must “act as if our house is on fire. Because it is”. For people suffering the effects of climate breakdown, inequality, and a polluted environment; people on the frontline of the erosion of rights; and for species barraged by ecological collapse, the next five years are literally a matter of life or death.

To achieve the united, inclusive, climate-safe future we desperately need, we need action on a European scale, and we must use every avenue available to build up political pressure – in the polling booths and in the streets. This moment calls for unprecedented action from local, national and international governments, to transform our unequal societies. We will need the most progressive European Commission and EU Parliament in our lifetimes, willing to take action on a radical vision for change, matched by mobilisation on the streets.

Across Europe, everything is still to play for. Some 63% of voters as a whole are unlikely or undecided to vote in the European elections later this month – this is even higher (77%) amongst young people, who will be most impacted in the long-term. This is deeply troubling with so much at stake. But if even a small proportion of those could be persuaded to vote, they could swing the outcome in a much more socially-just and environmentally-safe direction for Europe. The election in the UK, which will elect nearly 10% of Europe’s MEPs, will be particularly important. Even if Brexit means the UK’s MEPs do not serve the whole term, they will be in office at the start of the Parliament when key decisions on top jobs in Brussels, power-sharing and priorities will be made which will influence the next half-decade.

A progressive coalition is within grasp, and could really be forced to tackle the planetary emergency and rising inequalities with the urgency required. Such a majority of MEPs could be pushed into action to deliver a socially fair transformation to a fossil fuel free energy system, decent jobs, restoration of nature and ecosystems, social equity, sustainable trade, local and ecological food and farming, gender equality, humane immigration policies, international solidarity, and much more. These are the things I want to spend the next five years making progress on – not on staving off backwards moves for rights, freedoms and the environment.

The school climate strikers are still too young to vote in May’s elections. But us ‘grownups’ are not. For all those who can, particularly young people, this is a call to go to polling booths and vote for a kinder, greener, fairer future. And then to take to the streets. Because, change is possible and this election can make a real difference – for the next five years, and far beyond.

Jagoda Munic is director of Friends of the Earth Europe

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