OECD Forum 2019 Session: End of the Month, End of the World

May 20, 2019
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This OECD Forum 2019 background note will be used to prepare speakers on the panel End of the Month, End of the World, taking place at the OECD headquarters from 15:00-16:30 on Monday, 20 May. Join the Forum Network to comment and help inform the upcoming debate and, whether you're with us in Paris or watching online, let us know what you think of the session!


« L’affaire du siècle » in France demonstrates the major evolution the middle classes are facing. This petition, first drafted in December 2018, intended to address the inaction of the government regarding measures to tackle climate change, and gathered up to this day more than 2 million signatures. But how can we interpret this undertaking when, at the same time, the protest of the Gilets Jaunes managed to stop the increase of the carbon tax? The middle classes appear to be stuck in a dead end, torn between their desire to save the planet and keeping their purchasing power. 

This conflict of interest is not limited to the French middle classes; the concern for the preservation of the environment has reached a global audience, with urgent calls for answers. But why do we have the feeling that now, more than ever, addressing both issues simultaneously is more difficult? If we insist so much on the middle classes, it is partly because thanks to social networks, millions of voices now have the possibility to speak up, give an opinion, and protest. All around the world, these last months, we have witnessed numerous expressions of mixed feelings of worry, indifference or frank disregard towards the environment. Can we provide an ecological transition that does not rely on middle class salaries to pay for it? 

In a context of economic uncertainty, the middle classes do not have access to the upward mobility that their status once promised them. Part time employment and flexible shifts on the job market are responsible for irregularity of income, which makes it difficult to access the opportunities of the past such as education to ensure a safe position in society. Faced with these difficulties, environment is not a priority; justice is. 

Movements such as Occupy Wall Street have shown this need for more social justice. They emphasised the necessity to address inequality to accompany the ecological transition. In order to earn back the trust and the support of the middle classes, we need to provide a new framework of action for governments and key public and private sector stakeholders that will inspire confidence in their personal future. This framework must promote the values we are committed to: equality, fairness, and access to opportunity. 

Key stakeholders must take responsibility to work together to implement long-term policies  for structural change. They must set an example, and be seen to adopt fair measures; only then will the middle classes agree to make their own contribution to the environmental effort. We have to guarantee that there is a future beyond the end of the month, and that it is worth saving it. 

We must thus think of ways to relieve the economic pressure on the middle classes. Could we ensure a more sustainable ecological transition if we had higher incomes from which governments could extract a green tax? How can we satisfy the basic needs of people who struggle more and more to find housing, health or education at an affordable cost? These questions need an answer if we want to put an end to the constant fears of both the end of the month and the end of the world. 

  • In France we have clearly seen the struggle between end of the month, end of the world, are we seeing or can we expect similar developments elsewhere?
  • We must thus think of ways to relieve the economic pressure on the middle classes. Could we ensure a more sustainable ecological transition if we had higher incomes from which governments could extract a green tax?
  • How can we satisfy the basic needs of people who struggle more and more to find housing, health or education at an affordable cost?
  • Considering the social unrest governments are faced with when increasing taxes, could we consider the participation of actors other than households to finance this transition?

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Banner image: Kat Yukawa on Unsplash

Christophe Ginisty

Head of Digital Engagement, OECD

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