How to fix Eastern Europe’s problem with 2050 climate neutrality

(EurActiv, 12 Jul 2019) A radical, one might say populist, solution to solve the Eastern blockade on climate neutrality would be to set up a European Climate Solidarity Fund, writes István Bart.

István Bart is director of the Climate Strategy 2050 Institute.

The EU’s lofty climate ambitions are frequently thwarted by its Eastern Member States. The latest failure came in June when European Council conclusions to support climate neutrality by 2050 floundered on opposition from Poland, Czech Republic and Hungary.

Why is this so?  If we want to move towards stronger action on climate change, it is worth considering the reasons for these countries’ recalcitrance. Their leaders are not ideological on climate matters, on the contrary, they have very practical considerations:

First of all, for better or worse, their electorates are much less concerned about climate change than those in the West. For example, the green wave of the 2019 EP elections did not happen in Eastern Europe: the Green fraction of the new European Parliament will have very few Eastern faces: one Green Party MEP from Lithuania, three Pirate Party MEPs from Czechia, and a representative of the Russian party from Latvia.

Politicians in Eastern Europe rarely score points with voters by being progressive on climate. It is not that these electorates are not concerned about climate, it is rather that they are less convinced that their governments can do much about it, and in any case, many of them have more urgent matters to worry about.

This is the second point: energy prices. In many Eastern Member States, there are so many poor people that a change in energy prices can win or lose elections. Orbán got re-elected in 2014 to a great extent thanks to his policy of significant end-user energy price cuts, and other governments in the region also work hard to make sure that heating and power prices remain bearable.

While the average EU household spends about 4% of its budget on energy, this figure is around 8% for Poland, 7% for Czechia, and 5% for Hungary (down from 7% after the price cuts).

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EurActiv, 12 Jul 2019: How to fix Eastern Europe’s problem with 2050 climate neutrality