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  • Writer's pictureTeja Adarsh Dodda

Has Climate Change denial become an electable issue?

Refusal to accept climate change as real or even being against protecting the environment used to be seen as a fringe opinion politically. However, this has changed significantly over the past 10 years with a disturbingly high number of politicians actively coming out denying that climate change exists and/or being against green policies. This has now fully penetrated mainstream politics and is now showing a harmful trend of this even making a candidate more electable. What are the reasons behind these concerns?

American politics ever since former President Donald Trump entered into the fray, has been a hotbed of climate change denial with them walking out of the Paris Climate Agreement and rolling back numerous environmental regulations during his tenure. Couple this with prominent anti-ESG speaker and ex-presidential hopeful Vivek Ramaswamy, Republican politicians and their voters have been outwardly denying climate change and its adverse impacts for almost a decade now.

In the UK, the recent July 2023 by-election in Uxbridge and South Ruislip (a London suburb) was caused by the resignation of ex-PM Boris Johnson. Despite the Labour Party enjoying a 20-point lead nationally and being extremely popular in London due to Mayor Sadiq Khan, have narrowly lost out to the Tories due to the schedule to expand the Ultra Low Emission Zone (‘ULEZ’) policy which was an attempt to reduce emissions in urban areas, and has faced significant public backlash. This has even resulted in Prime Minister Rishi Sunak gaining confidence in these sorts of policies and announcing a rollback of the UK’s Net-Zero goals in September to gain popular support despite both of them being conservative-proposed policies.

In the recent elections in the Netherlands, there have been some surprising shifts in the political space. In the provisional elections conducted in March of 2023, the Farmer-Citizen Movement party (‘BBB’) went from having 0 seats in the Dutch Senate to having 16 seats (the co-highest currently). The important thing to note about the BBB is that it was a party formed in the rural regions of the country mainly in opposition to the government’s nitrogen emissions policies on farmlands. More recently, the PVV a far-right party won the national elections in November of 2023. While known for their anti-muslim stances, they also have a prominent climate change denial stance with their leader Geert Wilders saying he wouldn’t waste billions on ‘pointless climate hobbies’.

All of these point to a disturbing rise in politics of climate change denial in recent years. These results, especially in countries that have initiated and continued to be champions of sustainable development propose a scary notion for climate change activists and concerned citizens. The USA is the second highest carbon emitter, The UK the harbinger and biggest beneficiary of industrialisation and a central cause of pollution across the world, The Netherlands, whose majority of land area lies below sea level and has benefitted immensely from sustainable development, were seen as pioneers of transitions to renewable and green energy options, souring on green policies must be a point of concern. This prompts us to ask an important question, is climate change denial becoming an increasingly electable issue, especially in developed countries?

Well, the answer seems to be yes, if recent election results are anything to go by. With green parties out of governing coalitions everywhere except Germany and not expected to be in any other countries, the doomsday clock at 90 seconds, we have officially reached fire-alarm status. One of the key arguments against climate policies and the rise of fringe elements seems to be the palatability of these policies, especially in rural and underdeveloped areas. This poses a significant challenge to the current policies and asks for their reconsideration.

However, all is not bad as Latin America seems to be paving the way for sustainability moving forward. The ouster of Jair Bolsonaro and the win of Lula de Silva in Brazil has resulted in a stark drop in deforestation levels in the Amazon and the government has promised to get it even lower. Mexico’s next projected leader and slated to be the first female prime minister, Claudia Sheinbaum is a climate scientist and is the current mayor of Mexico City. She has promised significant policies in favour of protecting the environment.

While climate change does not act as a wedge issue in South Asian countries, in India, all the public statements of the government are in favour of promoting green policies, they ring hollow amidst blatant violations of their policy and bizarre measures suggested to cope with environmental impacts. The tip of the iceberg in such instances is the proposed ‘afforestation swap’ where areas will be notified as forests in Haryana to compensate for the loss in the Nicobar Islands, and weakened forest protection laws.

Given that 2024, is the year of elections where climate issues across the world are on the ballot, it is high time that climate activists and concerned citizens take elections much more seriously and work to elect candidates who could ensure positive change.

About the Author

Teja Adarsh Dodda is a final year student of B.A. (Hons) Public Policy at JSGP and is the President of the Policy Corner. They work as a researcher, mainly in the fields of intersectionality, urban governance, and mobility.

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