As leaders from the Global North gather in COP26 To discuss solutions to climate change, they must ensure that Europe’s poorest communities are also not left behind.
If vulnerable people perceive environmental measures as an additional burden on their already difficult lives, populists and the far right will take advantage of their grievances and, in turn, undermine the Paris Agreement.
Many Europeans, particularly in underdeveloped regions such as Andalusia, eastern Slovakia, southern Italy and eastern Germany, feel anger, resentment, mistrust and fear due to inequality. The yellow vest movement is just one of the many expressions of anger from these populations.
The gypsy people: a case study on marginalization
To better understand the vulnerable in the global North, we need to look at the situation of the Roma population, who endure conditions that remain far removed not only from the majority, but in conditions that more closely resemble those of low-income countries.
Ten percent of the Roma population lives without access to electricity: twice as many as in North Africa and West Asia. Thirty per cent do not have access to safe water in their homes, which is in line with the situation in Central and South Asia. 45% do not have access to sanitation facilities at home.
At the same time, 43% of the Roma population in employment live on less than $ 1.90 a day, while 63% neither study nor work, a higher proportion than in some of the poorest countries in the world.
Already living on the margins of society, their lives will become even more difficult as they are on the front lines of climate change, with floods, droughts and heat waves directly affecting their access to clean water, food and energy supplies.
At the same time, they have to deal with unfair climate policies that disproportionately affect them.
In North Macedonia, Roma who work as informal garbage collectors selling recovered plastic and cardboard have seen their livelihoods criminalized.
Overnight, a source of income has been taken away from families who have depended on it for years. In the absence of another job, many feel compelled to continue collecting, despite legal restrictions, low income and health risks.
Roma people have been left behind as collateral damage from previous transitions, from communism to a market economy in Eastern Europe, from the 2008 financial crisis to recovery, and have suffered disproportionately from serious illness and economic disruption in the pandemic. .
All the failed promises, such as the national policies geared towards the Roma and the funding they would provide, have created widespread disappointment, despair and anger among the Roma people and left them with no real voice in the political system.
Leaving the vulnerable aside is in the hands of the populists
European politicians from the right and far right have already shown how they can manipulate the anger of the majority and weaponize prejudice against the Roma.
This has already been seen in Bulgaria, Hungary and Slovakia, where the largest and poorest Roma live, but also in Italy, where popular prejudice against the tiny 0.25% Roma population was high enough to help Silvio Berlusconi and Matteo Salvini to lead the governments. .
Populists and the far right operate similarly in France, Germany, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and the United States. They return the public’s fear not only against vulnerable populations, but also against the EU, COVID-19 vaccines and the multilateralism on which the Paris Agreement is based.
There is no shortage of ideas for solutions. But the political will to make them happen quickly enough to make a difference is lacking.
the European Union Green deal It could be a good basis for the so-called just transition, but its focus should expand from carbon-intensive sectors to inequality-intensive sectors.
Similarly, the EU’s home renovation program to increase energy efficiency should also target Roma homes that are substandard and often not legalized.
For the Paris Agreement to make a difference internationally, its proponents must not assume that vulnerable populations in the Global North have a fair voice and opportunity by virtue of their citizenship.
Furthermore, people who suffer from inequalities around the world should not be forced to compete with each other; on the contrary, the threat of a climate crisis and the impact of political decisions on them means that we have not just an opportunity, but a need, to unite their voices.
Zeljko Jovanovic is Director of the Office of Roma Initiatives at Open Society Foundations, Chairman of the Board of the European Institute of Roma Art and Culture and a member of the European Council on Foreign Relations.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism