OpEd: It’s time for a social and sustainable Europe

OpEd: It’s time for a social and sustainable Europe

If you’re tired of polluted cities and worried about the planet you’re passing on to your kids, your answer is clear – an environmentally sustainable Europe. If you’re struggling in low paid or precarious work, or your job is threatened, your priority is clear – a socially sustainable Europe. But for us – socialist and social democratic environment ministers – protecting the environment and promoting social justice are two sides of the same coin. And here’s why.

Firstly, efforts to improve the environment will not take root unless we heed the social effects of the green revolution and, to go even further, unless this transition goes some way to resolving existing social problems. Secondly, saving the environment is not a luxury for the few – it is vital for us all. A fact which thousands of young people who take to the streets every week to demonstrate – from Stockholm to Valletta, from Brussels to Berlin – understand well.

That is why socialists and social democrats want a Sustainable Development Pact to guide the next legislative term in the European Union, so we achieve these two objectives.  At the heart of our approach is a just transition, an approach that frames the green transition with investment, with research and development, with strong trade unions, with training to make sure workers have the skills needed for a green, inclusive economy.

This transition shall be underpinned by a European Just Transition Fund, to support an active EU industrial, innovation, structural and investment policy, especially in coal-dependent regions. With the right approach, the green transition has huge potential for industrial modernisation and job-creation.

Though a European Plan for Affordable Housing, we can also tackle climate change whilst helping the worst off. We want to make EU funds available for cities to invest in renovation and construction of energy-efficient public housing. Let’s upgrade Europe’s housing stock and make homes more affordable to heat. We can protect the planet whilst promoting social justice.

With the EU’s Emissions Trading System we have attached a price tag to CO2 emissions from industry and energy production. In a socially fair way we need to extend the price tag principle to other sources of carbon emissions, like transport and heating. At the same time we will make sure that carbon prices do not negatively impact small and medium-income families, or place an excessive burden on commuters or tenants.

Europe must also step up its efforts to make the Paris Agreement’s objectives a reality and limit global warming to maximum 1.5 degrees Celsius. This will involve an EU long-term climate strategy with the overall goal of reaching climate-neutrality, and raising the EU’s greenhouse gas reduction target for 2030. This would be a strong signal to encourage more global climate ambition.

Europe’s model of food production can be improved radically too. We must refocus on supporting small farms, short supply chains and urban farming, as well as on the reduction of food waste, pesticides use and the leakage of plastic waste into the environment. Through this approach, we can preserve biodiversity and ecosystems, and make food healthy and affordable for all. Moreover, we need a transition away from fossil-fuel-based mobility and promote greener modes of transportation that are clean and accessible, including large investment in green public transport.

These are all objectives that are achievable, if there is political will. We must recognise that environmental policies, industrial policies, social policies, economic policies must support each other. We socialists and social democrats have the capacity to reconcile the worries of those concerned about the end of a liveable planet, with those worried about getting to the end of the month. Together with Frans Timmermans, the progressive candidate for President of the European Commission, we will bring environmental protection, quality jobs and citizens’ wellbeing together. We will make sure that Europeans have security in times of change. It’s time for a just transition towards an environmentally sustainable economic model.

Svenja Schulze, Federal Minister of the Environment, Germany; Teresa Ribera, Minister for Ecological Transition, Spain

As published in eldiario.es