A paradoxical turn to right

A paradoxical turn to right

Europe’s young voters must support tough climate actions to tackle extreme events and migration crisis

Why are Europe’s young voters moving towards right-wing parties? I ask this because it is the young who are angry about inaction on climate change, and yet they are voting for parties that are most in denial of this action. Why this paradox? What does it mean for our increasingly warm and at-risk Planet? 

In the June 2024 European Parliament elections, voters under 30 years gave their support to what are termed far-right parties, like the Alternative Fur Deutschland (AfD) in Germany, National Rally in France, Vox in Spain, the Brothers of Italy, Enough in Portugal, Vlaams Belang in Belgium, Finns Party in Finland and others. In many instances, it was a swing from the green vote in the 2019 elections to the far-right vote in 2024. Does this mean that there is less appetite for climate action among the European youth? Or does it mean that other concerns like unemployment and migration are taking precedence? Or, is it because the youth in Europe believe that far-right parties will still stay the course on climate action?

The fact is, Europe is equally impacted by extreme weather events. And its action is not on track to reduce emissions and limit the global temperature rise to the guardrail of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. So, the youth, who will inherit this increasingly warmer and catastrophic world are bound to be concerned—in fact, anguished and worried about their future.

Climate change is no longer the exclusive domain of the green and left parties. But when you consider far-right parties’ positions on climate change, there is a clear shift in emphasis if not a downright denial. This suggests that there will be greater resistance against measures that are inconvenient and drastic—the kind that are necessary to bend the curve of Planet-destroying emissions. The Dutch Party for Freedom in its manifesto says it should be the people’s choice to eat meat, take a plane or drive a petrol or diesel car—not of the officials in Brussels (where the EU headquarters is located). It goes on to say that people are suffering because of high energy prices, suggesting a rollback on fossil fuel taxes. Other far-right parties have been vocal against the transition from combustion engines or the shift to renewable energy sources, even arguing that this is “unaffordable madness”. Then, there is the movement of European farmers against the use of pesticides or reduction in livestock or the emotive issue of meat consumption that is bringing these parties together. Already, the ambitious Green Deal has been weakened; policies that drive national industrial interests—not climate action—are gaining traction.

So, the question is if the young voters will support tough actions on climate change or opt for the so-called win-win solutions—actions that do not impinge on the cost of living or price of fuel or take away choices on their preferred mode of travel. Sadly, hesitant answers are not going to work, given the sheer urgency of the climate crisis and the fact that rich countries, including Europe, have not reduced emissions at the needed scale and pace. What, then, does this mean for our warming world; for Europe’s leadership on climate action?

There is another paradox in today’s Europe, one that is resonating across the old industrial world. It is argued that the young are worried about the prospect of immigrants taking over local jobs and culture. They are shifting to the right because these parties say they will stop immigrants from crossing over; they are openly racist in some cases; and they want to maintain the “white” cultural and religious identity of their countries. But the fact is, Europe cannot do without the immigrants that service its economy. It needs the labour that comes from the “other” world to harvest its crops, run its trains and factories, and clean its cities.

The “World Migration Report 2024” finds that in 2020, some 87 million international migrants lived in Europe, an increase of 16 per cent over 2015. It says the many wars in our world are adding to this flight of human beings—by the end of 2022, the largest number of migrants into Europe were from war-torn Syria and Ukraine. Then there are the illegal migrants, whose numbers are difficult to estimate but have become evocative symbols of the hordes arriving to displace original inhabitants. The same report points out that slow-onset events because of climate change cause displacement, which is a greater contributor to the reasons people migrate. In other words, if Europe weakens its resolve to take climate action, it will increase the impoverishment of people already crippled by extreme events and losing ability to cope.

Remember, this is not a conundrum faced only by Europe. In Donald Trump’s world—there is a prospect that he could win US’ November elections—climate action and immigration are favourite hate-targets. Our world is in trouble, in more than one way

Down To Earth