Playing with fire: How polarisation inhibits climate action

Investigating how widening political divides are hindering climate action at a crucial time for the planet—the global political landscape is growing more polarised.

Populist candidates such as Donald Trump, Giorgia Meloni and Marine Le Pen have seen meteoric rises in recent years. Rising populism around the world presents a significant risk to the likelihood of cross-party consensus. By definition, climate change is an issue that affects everyone, and therefore requires politicians across the political divide to set aside partisan differences and work to produce ambitious and achievable climate legislation.

In America, the growth of hyper-partisan positions fuelled by polarisation has greatly restricted the passage of climate legislation. As Democrats moved to enact legislation such as the Inflation Reduction Act, promising $369bn to expand renewable energy sources and reduce America’s emissions by 40% compared with 2005 by 2030, it received zero votes from House Republicans, who are now moving to terminate proposed green tax credits before the bill becomes law.

Rampant climate change denialism during the first Republican primary debate was also particularly striking. The 4th-polling candidate Vivek Ramaswamy referred to the ‘climate change agenda’ as a ‘hoax’, and received a 5.5% bump in support, while all but one of the eight candidates on stage (which notably excluded Donald Trump) neglected to acknowledge the reality of climate change. This is especially shocking given the multiple tropical storms and wildfires that have ravaged the West coast over the past few months.

In the UK there has been multiple instances of lobbying net-zero sceptic MPs by climate change-denying think tanks, while the genuine cost of living debate surrounding ULEZ expansion has been overshadowed by climate denialists and conspiracy theorists. External forces seeking to destabilise the progress of climate legislation represent a significant threat to the coordinated effort necessary to remain under 1.5°C of warming.

We should collectively endeavour to prevent this, as polarisation leads to a lack of climate consensus, causing a potentially catastrophic level of inaction. By weaponizing climate change as a political bargaining chip, lawmakers distract from the issue at hand and divert time and resources away from crucial climate action.

There are many encouraging examples of non-partisan efforts working to provide a coordinated response to climate irregularities. London’s Labour mayor Sadiq Khan and the Conservative net-zero tsar Chris Skidmore have partnered to fight ‘climate delayers’, and hope that their show of cross-party unity will inspire other legislators.

The Climate & Nature Bill provides a perfect opportunity for this. As the government falls further behind its goals in its Net Zero Strategy, it widens the Ambition Gap between the action that is necessary and the action that the government is taking. The CAN Bill offers coordinated, bipartisan government action, which is crucial to fight the climate crisis. It is for this reason that the bill is already supported by 132 MPs from all major parties, 240 local councils and over 500 organisations.

Merely having ambitious future milestones is simply not enough to protect UK biodiversity and a genuine commitment to Net Zero. The Climate & Nature bill represents an ambitious yet achievable step towards a coordinated effort, free of polarisation and partisan biases, to fight climate change, while simultaneously looking to ensure both economic and climate justice.

While polarisation may represent a major challenge in the fight against climate change, by recognising that it only serves to limit genuine action and slow helpful legislation, the potential for bipartisan consensus and coordinated climate action becomes limitless.

Climate change is an issue that affects everyone—it is in everyone’s best interest to help fight it.

Join us on social

Urgent Appeal
Help us reach our £40,000 General Election Fighting Fund target, we're over halfway already, chip in today
£30,227 Donated