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Climate change tops agenda in the European elections for first time.

The new European Parliament will be shaping European policies for the next five years, including those on climate.

Climate change tops the agenda of the European election campaign in many countries for the first time. The hundreds of thousands of young people protesting across Europe and the world have put pressure on more conservative politicians to take up climate issues in their election campaigns.

The European elections are taking place across the EU between May 23 and 26, and UK citizens can cast their vote today (Thursday 23 May 2019) from 7am to 10pm.

The elections, which are held every five years, will see 751 Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) elected. Voters in the UK elect 73 MEPs to represent Britain in the parliament, based on proportional representation.


The European Parliament consists of eight political groups. The two largest are the Group of the European People’s Party (EPP), currently with 219 MEPs, and the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament (S&D), with 189 MEPs.

Besides the 8 groups, there are 20 independent MEPs.

European Parliament political groupings
Political groupings at the European parliament and their projected reshuffle after the elections (outer circle). Image by Europarl

The newly elected European parliament will run for the next five years, from 2019 to 2024. It will influence lawmaking on far-ranging issues such as the EU single market, data protection, migration, farming, fisheries, energy, the environment, and other areas.

When voting in European Elections in the UK, you can vote for national parties or individual candidates who stand nominated for election, and divided into 12 regions: East Midlands, Eastern, London, North East, North West, Northern Ireland, Scotland, South East, South West, Wales, West Midlands, Yorkshire and Humber.

The new European Parliament will be shaping European policies for the next five years, including those on climate.

UK seats in European parliament
The UK is divided into 12 regions for voting in the European elections. The image shows the current seat by party. Image by Democratic Audit

Climate crisis

In the past, the European parliament has played a key role for many decisions related to the environment, including the clean energy transition, the reform of the EU’s Emissions Trading System (ETS), the future emissions from transport, buildings, agriculture and forests, or the EU funding for fossil fuels.

The European parliament has also proven it can play an important role in increasing climate action, both at the EU and at the national level, for example by putting in place higher targets for renewable energy and energy efficiency.

The new European parliament, and European Commission, will be shaping European policies for the next five years, including policies to rapidly phase out greenhouse gas emissions in order to keep temperature rise below 1.5oC.


Yet, many of the political groups running in the European parliament lack substantive priorities on climate action.

An analysis by the civil society group Climate Action Network (CAN) Europe, ranking EU political groups and national parties on climate change, concluded the majority of EU political groups score badly on climate policy.

In particular, the conservative and right-leaning Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF), the European People’s Party (EPP) and the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) show a complete lack of ambition on climate change action.

The far-right ENF group consistently votes against EU climate policies, and undermines international cooperation, the report said.

EU elections climate priorities
Only three of the eight political groups in the European Parliament receive a  positive score on their climate policy. Image by CAN Europe

“In the last five years conservative and centre parties in the European Parliament have not done enough to stand up for European citizens and protect them from the climate crisis,“ said Wendel Trio, director of CAN Europe.

Political groups showing a progressive approach to climate policy include the Greens/European Free Alliance, the European United Left/Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL), and the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D), according to the analysis.

Things are not always clear-cut, however. European parties are also internally divided on climate, with most European political groups having climate champions, either in the form of national parties or MEPs.

Climate champions

In the UK, the three national parties who are members of the European Greens/EFA group score best on climate, according to CAN Europe: the Plaid Cymru - Party of Wales, the Green Party, and the Scottish National Party.

Scoring moderately on climate policy is the Labour Party, which is a member of the EU S&D coalition and currently has by far the highest number of MEPs, as well as Sinn Fein, which is a member of the GUE/NGL.

The Liberal Democrats, which are part of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats (ALDE) have shown only limited interest, believing in the need for climate action, but not acting with the required urgency.

All other national parties represent insufficient climate policies or outright oppose climate action: the Conservative Party, the United Kingdom Independence Party, Libertarian Party, Democratic Unionist Party and Ulster Unionist Party.

The Conservative Party is split, with the majority of its members who are part of the European ECR group scoring much worse than their party fellows that affiliate to the EPP group.

”The youth climate strikes created the momentum for all politicians to acknowledge that climate change is a topic they can no longer ignore, ” said Wendel Trio.

”After the European elections we will hold MEPs accountable and make sure that their promises are followed by concrete measures to tackle the climate emergency. ”

This Author

Arthur Wyns is a biologist and science journalist. He is a climate change researcher at the World Health Organization and tweets from @ArthurWyns.

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