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ESG News Review: Will voters clip the EU’s wings on climate policy?

Shall we turn our thoughts to the election? No, not that one. Or that one.

The other one.

Yes, it may be getting less ink and fewer pixels in the UK’s media at the moment, but voting is getting underway in the European Parliamentary elections.

For tackling the impact of climate change, and arguably across the wider ESG landscape, the decisions over who takes up the MEP seats in Brussels for the next five years will be pivotal. The continued rollout, or any rowing back on, EU policy to address the environment will be shaped by how this election falls out, with a shift to the right broadly projected.

EU member states go the polls from Thursday, with results expected late on Sunday.

But as the BBC covered this week, the direction of agenda-setting and ambitious policy agendas, centred on the European Green Deal, seems to have prompted a “greenlash” that may ultimately undermine Europe’s intention to become carbon neutral by 2050.

The Ukraine war, rising household costs and protests over agricultural reforms were principal factors that may turn voters against previous green intentions. “Most of the policies that decide how the EU achieves its goals for 2040 still have to be agreed in the coming years. Additionally, if there’s enough political pressure, even directives that have already been approved can be changed,” wrote the BBC.

Yet according to The Guardian, a lurch to the right may not be as severe as polls suggest, and even so may not put the brakes on climate policy to the degree some are expecting.

“High polling numbers for radical rightwing parties could even help swing centrist voters toward the Greens. In their campaigns, their politicians have pushed the message that a vote for the Greens will protect Europe not just from extreme weather, but also from the far right,” it noted.

Meanwhile, the current president, Ursula von der Leyen, who is seeking re-election, appears to have softened her hard stance on progressive climate policies ahead of polling, but may be biding her time or making the transition more business-friendly, observers believe.

As Politico put it, von der Leyen’s defining achievement of her first term has been “the world’s only continent-scale package of climate laws, known as the European Green Deal.”

But it added: “By November, the bloc may also face the question of how to respond to the second presidency of Donald Trump. Everything the EU does in that scenario will need to emphasise its own climate credentials, or risk global green commitments unraveling as American leadership evaporates.”

The UK will have its own political ding-dong over climate-related policy and investment during the next few weeks, The EU has already has its own, and the next few days will reveal how the political mix may shift for the next five-year term, and give clues around the pace and possible reform of its climate policy drive.

But it will then be some months before the overall picture of what may be reshaped, and how that sets the global tone, becomes clearer.

The ESG News Review is written by Steve Earl, a Partner at PR agency BOLDT.

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