Climate change has gradually become, in the course of the past years, the top priority in the agenda of European and extra-European institutions, with the new Green Deal and EU goals to achieve climate neutrality and highly reduce greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2030. Civic engagement has contributed to raising awareness on the need to act to mitigate, as much as possible, the potential effects and consequences of the environmental damage. Recent natural disasters in the overall CEE region brought the urgent need to contrast climate change to the fore. However, this issue has been rarely concretely addressed and prioritized by national governments in the area. Nevertheless, a number of political movements and actors in the area are taking the reins of the issue.
Public concern over environmental protection has arisen in a number of societal contexts in Central and South-Eastern Europe, where oftentimes newly elected representatives gave significant space to the theme within their political programs and plans. The emergence of pro-environment personalities was well received, most notably in capital cities, where the young and most educated part of the population shares awareness on climatic concerns.
In May of 2021, Croatian citizens elected the new mayor of the capital, Tomislav Tomasevic, a supporter of a strong environmental policy for Zagreb.
Similarly, already in 2019, the mayors of Prague, Budapest, Bratislava and Warsaw, sharing progressive stances, agreed on signing a joint “Pact of Free Cities”. The agreement, along with intense support of democratic values and fundamental rights, stated a strong commitment to fight climate change, particularly through EU funding opportunities. The mayors undertook to compensate for a diffused lack of action by the national political leaders. Moreover, the four political actors confirmed the cooperation on the environmental front on the occasion of the September 2021 Budapest Forum for Building Sustainable Democracies, where a push for a green transition in the region was further restated.
Commitment to combat climate change also proves to be significant in view of a number of national elections in the CEE regions taking place in the following months.
In a recent statement to Project Syndicate, Budapest’s mayor and Hungarian PM candidate Gergely Karácsony reiterated his intention to promote an environmental approach and support civil initiatives in this field, commenting on how “infinite, unregulated economic growth – capitalism’s core dynamic – simply is not compatible with life on a planet with finite resources”.
As regards the Czech Republic, imminent elections at the beginning of October present political competitors with an extensive program to address the environmental issue. These include the Greens and the coalition including the Pirates and STAN parties.
Finally, in Greece, the government recently established a specific ministry appointed to focus on the climate crisis and to elaborate specific policies, as a consequence of the wildfires phenomenon that invested the country in the past months.
The prospects for the future, therefore, appear optimistic, in the hope that further efforts are achieved at broader national levels.