Report – Green Wedge? Mapping Dissent Against Climate Policy in Europe
This report is a first step towards mapping the climate conversation in Europe. The aim is to get
a better sense of the various communities and groups that will support the European Green Deal (EGD), as well as understand the types of dissent and counter-mobilisation that will inevitably arise and risk derailing the implementation of the EGD’s main policy objectives.
We were prompted to initiate this investigation against the backdrop of somewhat complacent assumptions (comforted by a number of surveys) about a large consensus across European publics regarding the climate emergency and the need to address it – especially in the aftermath of the first wave of Covid, which seems to have triggered an increased awareness of the climate emergency and fuel a desire to ‘build back better’. Our concern was that climate policy might instead become the latest populist rallying cry (potentially replacing immigration and migration as a wedge issue).
To evaluate the mobilisation potential of detractors we decided to track the online conversation around the EGD, and more broadly around climate policy in eight European countries. Our findings should give policy-makers pause for thought:
- First, there is little public consensus on climate policy, and that whatever consensus in favour of a proactive climate policy exists, it is fragile.
- Second, in the context of – at best – this fragile consensus, EU institutions that should be seek- ing to build coalitions and alliances with potential supporters in civil society are failing to do so: the conversation in Brussels stays in Brussels. There is very little engagement between the insti- tutions driving the EGD and civil society groups and organisations. The result is that, not only are climate policy detractors critical of the EGD and mounting challenges against it, but so too are the groups that, in theory, should be allies (but, in reality, are very critical). This means that negativity and protest are developing on either side of the issue – the EGD is too much for some, and not enough for others, and neither faction is being engaged. In the case of potential supporters, this is a real missed opportunity.
- Third, online mobilisation is driven by emotional content that is best transmitted via memes, and various meme derivatives. It is ironic and subversive, and extremely viral. EU institutions and policy-makers struggle to engage with the emotional charge (and generational stamp) of this content. Hence the absence of engagement between policy-makers and civil society. This content can be found on both sides of the argument: on the side of those who seek to undermine the EGD, as well as on the side of those who feel it is too weak, and inadequate, to meet the challenges posed by climate change.
- Finally, and most importantly, we note that the climate issue is not just another issue: it has the power to profoundly reshape the European ideological landscape. Not only is climate not creating consent, it has the capacity to fragment our political landscapes further. We notice a significant transformation: the most widespread accusation from climate policy detractors is to accuse climate policy supporters of eco-fascism and authoritarianism. Equally, we note that climate policy supporters are increasingly on the side of restraint, constraint and the curtailment of individual choices (to protect the planet). Progressives are redefining what progress means – and the detractors are taking up the language of freedom fighters. This is not just a language game: it seems to be a profound shift in the values attributed to some key democratic concepts in the context of an existential threat. Paying attention to this transformation and its generational and ideological dynamics is key for successful engagement with potential allies and to avoid accidentally fanning the flames of climate policy dissent.