Should yesterday’s European elections matter to us? When it comes to tackling climate change, the answer is an emphatic yes. Former MEP, Chris Huhne, argues that the values you care about should be reflected in the people sent to Brussels to represent you. They may seem faceless, distant and pointless, but they have real power on many of the issues that affect the places we live and work.
When it comes to action on climate change, the EU, its commissioners and the MEPs that make up the parliament, all have important roles. It’s logical to tackle climate change at the European level, as it’s a transboundary issue. And Europe has carved out a far bigger global role on climate change than its individual members could have, pushing for ambitious progress at the international level, with a strong track record to point to.
MEPs have a strong public mandate on climate issues
So what lies ahead for MEPs starting work in the new term? As Green Alliance’s recent policy insight demonstrates – quite a lot. MEPs have a clear public mandate to act on climate change, with 90 per cent of European citizens considering it a serious problem, and 77 per cent of people in the UK agree that tackling it will help to boost the economy and jobs. As they take up their committee positions and get down to business there are some key decisions ahead.
In the next term the EU will be agreeing its 2030 framework for climate and energy policies, deciding emissions and renewables targets and its approach to improving energy efficiency. Work is underway and MEPs have already voted for more ambitious targets than those proposed by the Commission. The new intake of MEPs will agree the final framework in the coming year through co-decision with the Council of national ministers. The Energy Efficiency Directive and the EU Emissions Trading Scheme are both being reviewed and reformed over the coming term. And MEPs will have a say on the position that the EU will take to the global climate talks in 2015.
People in the UK are better off as a result of EU policy decisions
Nationally, UK MEPs are in a strong position to make the case for the benefits of EU action on climate change. They often note how difficult it is to get media coverage for EU decisions, as the protracted, multi-stage processes put journalists off. But, even if they can’t secure media coverage, MEPs can still make the case to their constituents. The UK has gained jobs and economic growth as a result of clear directions set by EU targets, particularly on renewables; and UK businesses really want the level playing field created by European policy. More tangibly, UK households have saved an average of £158 a year each as a result of EU policies like the Ecodesign Directive, and £83 per year as a result of the phase out of incandescent lightbulbs. Car drivers have also benefited, as EU efficiency standards have seen the cost of driving a new diesel car fall by almost half since 1997.
In challenging economic times none of this is to be sniffed at. It may derive from lengthy, bureaucratic processes, but the results are ultimately important. It affects us personally while giving us an influential seat at the table in global negotiations.