There cannot be a trade-off between environmental and social concerns, according to Reinhard Buetikofer, Member of the European Parliament and Co-Chair of the European Green Party ('EGP').
“One core principle is that politics is about people. Even environmental politics is about people – People and their concerns, people and their ambitions, their hopes, their fears,” Buetikofer said in a podcast hosted by Jason Mitchell, Co-Head of Responsible Investment at Man Group. “If you say: ‘I want to save the climate’, a lot of people will feel that you are not going to take care of their concerns.”
Buetikofer gave the example of a region he visited on the border of eastern Germany and Poland, where a community of a couple of thousand people relied on open-pit lignite mining for their livelihoods. Lignite is generally considered to be the lowest rank of coal due to its relatively low heat content and environmentalists are lobbying hard to phase out lignite mining. However, phasing out lignite mining would have a big social impact. Indeed, 20,821 people were employed in the lignite sector (including mining, power plant operation, and revegetation of former mines) in Germany as of May, according to Clean Energy Wire.
“If we just focus on an environmental perspective without taking account of social concerns, why would people listen if they get the impression that we’re not listening to them?” Buetikofer said in the podcast. Instead, society as a whole would benefit if we thought about what other kinds of businesses we could create in the region and how we could use the competencies that the mine workers have in other industries that are less harmful for the environment, he said.
“Most people are motivated, to a very large degree, by – what in American politics is called – the ‘bread and butter issues’: Will I have a job? Will my kids have a good future? Can I afford sending them to school? If you don’t contribute to that conversation, you’re irrelevant,” Buetikofer said. “So we have to argue that the solutions that we bring to the table are offering them better opportunities – that there are more jobs now in the renewables sector than we still have in the fossil fuels industry; that we can create a more modern industry that can stand up to international competition.”
Buetikofer’s comments echoed those made by Fiona Reynolds, CEO of the United Nations-supported Principles for Responsible Investment, in another podcast hosted by Mitchell. “We have to do better as a community – not just investors, but companies and governments need to do better at making sure that people aren’t left behind and that workers aren’t losers in the climate change wars,” she said in the podcast.
Click here to listen to the full podcast.