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Fintan O’Toole: We must vote for survival of our species on Friday

Our MEPs have a dire record on climate change. We must put it at top of EU agenda

Friday's elections for the European Parliament are all about survival. Not the Darwinian struggle for the survival of the fittest politician but the survival of our species. Children born this year will, with luck, live into the next century. But how lucky does that make them really?

Unless we act collectively, radically and consistently now, we are bringing children into a suicidal culture. The future we are planning for them is one of the mass extinction of species and the destruction of all the ecosystems on which humanity depends for its continued existence.

Faced with this reality, we cannot afford to waste our votes on tribal local politics. The European Union is one of the most powerful forces in the shaping of the global response to climate change. Each of us as voters has a chance to influence the way it uses that power.

The fight between survival and suicide is here and now. On Friday we get to pick which side we're on

We have to be ruthlessly objective about this. Green-tinged platitudes are useless. What matters are two basic questions. What group will the candidate sit with in the European Parliament? And how does that group vote on climate change?

Everything else – aspirations, affections, affectations – is irrelevant. Whether we like them or not, whether we want to protest about domestic questions like housing or healthcare, whether we love or loathe Leo – all irrelevant. We have real power here only if we concentrate it and we can do that only by concentrating on actual votes on actual legislation on climate change.

The best objective analysis of voting patterns in the EP is published by Climate Change Action Europe (CAN), the umbrella body for 1700 civil society environmental organisations across the continent. It is based, not on rhetorical claims, but on what actually happens in the parliament. And from an Irish point of view it is shameful. CAN’s report says: “The ranking of the Irish political parties reveals a shocking apathy of their MEPs towards the importance of EU climate action”.

Defenders, delayers and dinosaurs

It divides European groups into three types: defenders, delayers and dinosaurs. The defenders are actively engaged in trying to save us from a climate change catastrophe. The delayers are taking the St Augustine line: make us green but not yet. The dinosaurs are simply refusing to face the scale of the challenge and are therefore stopping everyone else from responding to it with the necessary urgency.

If you vote Fine Gael on Friday, you’re voting for the European People’s Party.  It is a climate change dinosaur. Its score of 14.3 out of a hundred on CAN’s tracker “is the most shocking result and reflects the fact that on the most important decisions on EU climate and energy legislation they have shown a complete lack of support for climate action.”

To put this into context, Fine Gael’s group is actually worse on climate change legislation in the EP than the far-right Europe of Nations and Freedom gang. Given the party’s dire domestic record on climate change over the last eight years, this should not be so much of a surprise. But it is at least clear – if you vote for Fine Gael on Friday, you are voting for almost complete inaction by the EU on the biggest crisis facing humanity.

‘Climate action’

Fianna Fáil is slightly better. If you vote for one of its candidates on Friday, you are actually voting for the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE). It is ranked as a delayer rather than a dinosaur. It gets 38 out of a hundred from CAN – which marks it among those "who believe in the need for climate action, but do not act with the required urgency". There is a complication here in that Fianna Fáil's only outgoing MEP, Brian Crowley, chose to sit with the European conservatives and reformists whose record is abysmal, even worse than the EPP's.

Of the Irish parties with representation in the outgoing EP, Sinn Féin is the best performer, but even it does not make it beyond the delayers category, with a score of 49 out of a hundred. If you vote for Sinn Féin on Friday, however, you are also voting for the European United Left-Nordic Green Left, which does rank among the climate change defenders with a score of 66. So Sinn Féin’s position is rather ambivalent: it is a laggard in a good group. (Luke “Ming” Flanagan is also a member.)

What is not ambivalent is that Ireland currently has no members of the other two EP groups with good records on climate change. Nessa Childers sat with the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats but is not seeking re-election.

If you want to vote for the Socialist group, which scores 61, you vote for Labour or the Social Democrats. And if you want to vote for the best-performing group on climate change, with a score of 85, the Greens-European Free Alliance, you have to vote Green on Friday.

The Greens have been "a very coherent and uniform group" with a clear and consistent focus on the single most important issue for Europe and the planet.  Climate change deniers are now in power across much of the world. The fight between survival and suicide is here and now. On Friday we get to pick which side we're on.