Brussels is already warming up for European elections that will take place on 6–9 June 2024. Centre-right and far-right parties appear to have decided that between now and then they will fight hard to stop further regulation needed to deliver the EU Green Deal. Businesses and financial institutions in favour of policies to bring down emissions should speak up now.

Right-wing parties are having a moment across Europe. In September 2022, Giorgia Meloni from the far-right Brothers of Italy swept the floor in Italian elections. A month later, Sweden’s Social Democratic Party, after eight years in power, was ousted in favour of a right-wing coalition that includes the far-right Sweden Democrats. In April 2023, Petteri Orpo’s conservative National Coalition Party came out on top in Finnish elections, ahead of Prime Minister Sanna Marin’s Social Democrats, who finished third. In May 2023, Greece’s conservative Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and his New Democracy party took first place in national elections. Most recently, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has called a general election for 23 July after his Socialist party lost heavily to conservatives and far-right parties in local and regional elections. 

Parties of all political stripes have, at some point in recent years, tried to convince the public they are in favour of climate action. Since the war in Ukraine and the economic fallout of high inflation, however, right-wing politicians in particular have become increasingly vocal about the need to boost the economy and be “pragmatic” about the low-carbon transition. In Brussels, the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP), the biggest political group in the European Parliament, is using the Russian invasion and higher energy and food prices to push back against a new EU Nature Restoration Law – and climate action.

The nature proposal is part of the European Commission’s policy package to get the EU to net-zero emissions by 2050. It would set legally binding targets for member states to restore wildlife on land, in rivers and the sea. Without restoring nature and its carbon sinks, the Commission says the 2050 net-zero goal will not be met. Research shows that Europe’s soils, in particular, are in a poor state, mainly because of over-intensive farming – and degraded soils emit, rather than absorb, carbon.

However, the EPP is launching a constant onslaught against the law via Twitter and making claims that have been disproved by the Commission and industry groups about its impacts. It suggests the Nature Restoration Law would hamper efforts to install wind and solar farms. Yet, WindEurope, which represents the European wind industry, has made it clear the energy transition and nature protection go together. It recently hosted a workshop to underline the opportunities for offshore wind and grid development to go beyond emissions reductions, minimise environmental risks and enhance ecosystems. The European electricity trade association, Eurelectic, also says renewable energy projects can restore nature.

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Another of the EPP’s accusations is that looking after nature better will be bad for the economy. The Commission says this is not the case. “Businesses support us: restoration doesn’t mean stopping economic activities!” tweeted Virginijus Sinkevičius, EU Environment Commissioner, in early May. “More than 50% of global GDP depends on biodiversity. Insurance companies have invested €510bn ($546.42bn) in companies with high dependency on ecosystem services. Our economy is in Nature’s hands.”

Thanks to the EPP’s efforts, the Nature Restoration Law was rejected last month by the Parliament’s agriculture and fisheries committees. On 15 June, the Environment Committee will vote, ahead of the whole Parliament later this summer.

If businesses, like members of WindEurope, believe nature is vital for the economy and that the energy transition and nature restoration go hand-in-hand, now is the time for them to speak up loudly, clearly and publicly. If the bill does not make it through this Parliament, the new, likely more-right wing Parliament elected next summer could throw it out altogether, and jeopardise the EU Green Deal and EU climate leadership.

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Failing to back nature restoration as a way of reducing emissions would be heralded by some politicians as an ideological victory, but it would be a pyrrhic victory for the rest of us – businesses and farmers included – as climate targets become more difficult to meet and the impacts of a warming world put ever greater strain on people, the land and the economy.

The unprecedented €2.2bn drought response plan approved in Spain last month is proof, if it were needed, that the current system of exploiting the Earth is not going well. As Emma Garnett, a researcher at the University of Oxford, says: “We can’t rewrite the laws of atmospheric physics.” We need to change our policies and practices if we want to have a chance of avoiding the worst impacts of global warming.

It is normal in times of economic turmoil for people to vote for parties promising stability and growth. Those of us old enough to vote know, however, that as much as we may like him to exist, Father Christmas is not real. We should also all be old enough to understand that political parties claiming that nature restoration is bad for the economy and the clean energy transition apparently still believe in him.

Philippa Nuttall is a journalist and writer focused on the climate and biodiversity crises. She was Energy Monitor‘s founding editor-in-chief and environment and sustainability editor at the New Statesman.