The United Kingdom
The political landscape
Two years from the UK’s vote to leave the EU, the ongoing political crisis has made for a challenging backdrop to push forward meaningful climate action. The British public has lost patience with the political class and is worn down by more than a decade of austerity and falling standards of living. Both of the dominant political parties are meanwhile riven with conflicts over Brexit.
Facing these challenges, the ECF and UK partners have pursued a climate strategy that is resilient to any number of credible political scenarios, and that is carefully considerate of public frustrations and cynicism. The ECF is also conscious that the outcome of the Brexit negotiations could have profound implications for climate progress across all of Europe.
In the aftermath of the Brexit vote, the ECF worked with UK partners the Greener UK coalition of NGOs & think tanks like E3G and the Conservative Environment Network to secure safeguards in the negotiated UK-EU agreement, which would, if enacted, prevent a wholesale race-to-the-bottom on environmental protections and climate policy and help sustain the UK’s international leadership. Meanwhile, within the UK, our partners like the UK Health Alliance, the British Lung Foundation, Client Earth, UNICEF, UK100 and Mums for Lungs have successfully built cross-party support for new national air quality targets to be voted on later this year. The new law should establish strict air pollution standards that will reduce traffic emissions, and will have the co-benefit of reducing transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions. The ECF has worked closely with the Mayors of London and other cities, and has assembled a strong and diverse coalition of public health group, children’s advocates, and green organisations to prepare for the campaigning in in the months ahead. These advances in clean mobility would build on the considerable progress that ECF’s partners like the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit, Sandbag and Green Alliance have helped bring about in the UK’s power sector, where emission reductions are now the fastest of any major economy in the world.
The political landscape
While the early days of Emmanuel Macron’s presidency reflected strong climate leadership, these efforts to “make our planet great again,” have been increasingly marred by political and social challenges. In August, the first Minister for the Ecological Transition, environmentalist Nicolas Hulot shocked, the French government and citizens with his resignation, leading many to doubt Paris’s credibility on the environment and climate.
Months later, the Gilets Jaunes movement erupted onto the streets, as the many ordinary people revolted against social and economic injustice. Though there were many factors and policies that fuelled popular discontent, President Macron’s signature carbon tax increase was singled out by protesters and commentators as a leading cause of the mobilisation. As the government was forced to freeze the planned increase of the carbon tax, the episode revealed the clear need for better designed policies that create positive economic and social benefits for all impacted parties.
Throughout 2018, the ECF French team has worked to broaden our network of partners (CAN-France, IDDRI, I4CE, Respire, Wise Paris, Friends of the Earth France, Oxfam France) while focusing on key national policies, such as the national low-carbon strategy, the review of the national multi-annual energy plan, and the transport and mobility law. Our partners provided support for initiatives under the Plan Climat announced by Hulot in 2017, including commitments to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 to a coal phase-out by 2020.
As these goals are translated into concrete plans, ECF’s partners (such as CAN-France, CLER, IDDRI, I4CE and the “Renovons” coalition) have supported programmes to provide financial incentives for citizens to buy cleaner cars and to retire oil-fired heating systems.
However, as social unrest stalled final climate and clean energy decisions and policy votes, the ECF redoubled efforts to converge the unprecedented social energy of the Gilets Jaunes and citizens for the climate campaigners. We are working with workers’ unions, social justice advocates, and defenders of democracy, serving as liaison to ensure that climate solutions—particularly those involving transportation, buildings, and taxes—will also improve the lives of all French citizens.
The political landscape
The international spotlight was on Poland in 2018 as the country served as host of the COP24 climate summit in Katowice. The Polish government, however, is still heavily invested in coal mining and coal-fired power plants continue to provide the vast majority of the country’s electricity. Weeks before the UN climate talks, the government passed on the opportunity to propose an ambitious climate plan, instead releasing a new Polish Energy Policy 2040 that forecast renewed dependence on coal for decades to come.
Meanwhile, air quality in many Polish cities has perpetually violated WHO healthy air standards, and citizens have been calling for cleaner air. In 2018, the Polish government finally responded to these demands, launching a massive initiative to support thermal retrofits of single-family homes and the replacement of aging coal boilers for heating, the single largest source of air pollutants in the country..
While the government has neglected climate action to a significant degree, the ECF Polish team and its network; Health and Environment Alliance and Polish Climate Coalition among others have worked to make progress. Today, public concerns over climate in Poland have reached a record high of 84%, and COP24 became a platform for massive citizen actions against coal-dependency.
The ECF and its scientific partner NaukaoKlimacie.pl together with the Global Catholic Climate Movement and others helped support ambitious calls for a coal phase-out at COP24, with respected academics and many politicians taking part.
The political landscape
Political uncertainty shrouded Germany for nearly six months after the September 2017 elections,until a new coalition was agreed to between the Social Democrats and Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative party. The long negotiations echoed social and ideological divisions familiar in many democratic nations today, with fierce tensions between nationalist and progressive tendencies. Climate played a significant—if not crucial—role in the negotiations, as parties agreed to both a coal phase-out commission and a climate law that would make emissions reduction targets legally binding.
Amidst the political instability, Germany lost some credibility as a climate leader as the nation is poised to miss its 2020 target for greenhouse gas emissions reductions. Progressive voices calling for renewed climate leadership and action are increasing in volume both within government and in the country. For instance, demonstrations to protect the Hambach Forest have given birth to a society-wide anti-coal movement, and climate concern is ranking higher in the public agenda than it has in 10 years.
The ECF Germany team has worked with grantees and partners throughout 2017 to support momentum for climate action: Key partner Agora Energiewende has been leading the successful effort for a coal solution, through which the government-appointed “coal commission” agreed to phase out coal-fired power plants. The ECF grantee network, led by Germany’s biggest civil society coalition, Klima-Allianz, supported public campaigns that included German churches, public health advocates and even celebrities. ECF grantees NaturFreunde Deutschlands, 350.org, and Campact have also been part of the Hambach Forest protests, which played a critical role in shifting public sentiment about a potential “coal exit.” ECF nand its partners continue to advocate for a more rapid phase out of coal power, so that the country can get back on a path to its emission reduction pledges and return to its position as a true global leader on climate action.