Ambitious climate action and social progress must go hand in hand. If we don’t act now the climate crisis will continue to undermine the social progress and democratic developments achieved over the last decades.
In a new manual of arguments, FES scrutinizes the most pressing areas, in which social and environmental concerns are often—mistakenly—played out against each other. The authors present arguments showing that ambitious climate policies can, in contrast, help us build fairer and more social societies.
Two of the co-authors explain to FES Connect why this is so important right now.
There is no doubt that climate politics is one of the most pressing topics right now. But how exactly should social democracy embrace the issue?
Robert: As social democrats, we should approach climate policy by combining the right policy with smart politics. This does not mean copying anyone else, nor in particularly trying to be greener than the greens. Smart politics means finding our own niche within this issue, where we are credible and relevant, and where our position is in line with our established political philosophy. From there we can take full-scale ownership of this agenda in consequent communication and practical policy. A rigorously pursued, socially balanced ambitious climate policy is such an agenda.
Ivana: We are currently seeing rising inequalities and growing poverty on the one hand, and air pollution, environmental degradation and unfavourable climate impacts on the other. It is therefore our generation of social democrats that has the task to combine right policies with smart politics to ensure sustainable development. Because if we fail to mitigate and adjust to climate change, we won’t be able to create a just society. And if we don’t impede rising inequalities and division, climate politics are obsolete. Therefore, the two segments should be an integral part of the social democratic agenda today. In parallel, all measures and policies should be followed by appropriate reorganization of institutions. This is both an obligation and an opportunity for social democracy to reinvigorate itself, as well as our society.
And how can your manual contribute to that? Who do you want to address and why?
Robert: Our manual of arguments is pursuing the political agenda of practical, socially balanced, ambitious climate policy from A to Z. In claims, arguments, best and good cases, and infographics it presents abundant proof that climate change and social justice can go, and is going, hand-in-hand in many countries and municipalities, and improves our everyday lives. Therefore, the manual serves primarily as a tool for decision makers who are aware of the need for bold ecological and climate policy measures, but may be wary of alienating voters, trade union members, or consumers with another change they have to make in their lives. We tried to come up with a well justified plan of action that will benefit ordinary people like me and you.
Ivana: Compiling the manual started from the point of understanding the reluctance of progressive actors towards integrating ambitious climate and energy policies into their political programmes. We understand how a progressive mayor of a small town in the western Balkans, for example, might feel about jobs threatened by climate change. That is why we try to explain the need for a “Climate Action. Socially. Just.” that will not only secure our jobs and create new ones but will also secure the jobs of our children. We also try to show that ordinary citizens are not just the beneficiaries of ambitious climate change policies, but also have our own role to play in climate action. It is up to us to decide if we would take that rusty bicycle and bike into the carbon-free world we want to live in, instead of taking our cars to work and then complain about air pollution in the city.
Robert, your contribution for the magazine deals with the future of mobility. What is your main point?
Robert: Transport is the only sector where emissions have risen since 1990, so fulfilling the climate goals for this sector presents a huge challenge. At the same time, there are many examples of smart sustainable eco-mobility measures benefiting ordinary people in hundreds of cities and regions. These include smart urbanization, a decrease of the need for long travel and the international transport of goods, and of course investment in quality public transport. All this and smarter eco-transport modes improve the health of nature and people, costs them less than owning a car, and very often improves their time management and their local economy. That is what I tried to present in this chapter.
Ivana, you wrote about energy and the role of the state. Why, in your opinion, is this issue so pressing and what is your message?
Ivana: At FES, we say “Democracy needs democrats, and energy needs democratization.” The chapter shows how shifting our economies to renewable energy will help save our planet and our jobs. If the shift occurs in a decentralized and just manner, it will allow citizens, workers, local communities and business to play a role in the current energy system. Thus, we want to show that the transition is not about losing jobs, it is about saving them under further improved and guaranteed conditions that allow an energy-cohesive society where everyone has an equal say. Last but not least, we want to underline that political will is also an untapped renewable resource that needs to be used by progressive actors in a way that will allow for the socially just energy transformation to happen. Just like democracy would never have been achieved without holding elections and lifting complex voting procedures, we need to simplify procedures for individual and small-scale investment in renewable energy in order to allow for a positive change to happen.
The debate on how to tackle the climate crisis has been very heated. And the way we talk about progressive solutions is changing. How should social democrats talk about climate politics nowadays in order to win the argument?
Robert: The biggest challenge here lies in the fact that the usual arguments implicitly raise anxieties and insecurities, which is not the emotion that social democrats should feed into. A good method to win people’s support for climate policies, besides stressing social balance and ecological fairness, is to show people positive examples of how countries, cities, regions, societies are adopting the right climate policy measures. We as social democrats can claim a track record as THE political movement with the unique experience to shepherd societies through tough times.
Ivana: Alongside every challenge lies an opportunity, and as Robert has highlighted, the many positive examples that we have presented in the manual show that communities that recognize and adequately integrate the laws of nature have a greater potential for further development and socio-ecological cohesion. Such communities draw their expertise from the needs and demands of the citizens, who at the end of the day are the best experts for their immediate environment. Social democratic policies rely on direct engagement and citizens’ participation. Because in a democracy, there is no us and the government. The power of progressive actors and the citizens themselves, can even offset the climate ignorance of certain governments, allow for progressive actors to connect with each other, and acquire the power to effect positive change.
Thank you both for your time and good luck with your project.
Ivana Vuchkova is a programme coordinator at the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Office in Skopje, North Macedonia.
The Interview was conducted by Johannes Damian (FES Berlin). More on the project
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