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Is there a growing resistance to climate change policies?

Why is there a growing backlash against climate change policies? And what can be done to change the tide of public opinion?
Ecology News
2023-11-30T00:00:00.000Z
en-us
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Climate change, the defining crisis of our century, presents an existential threat to our planet. Yet, alarmingly, we are witnessing a growing resistance to climate change policies, particularly in some of the world’s most developed and environmentally conscious nations. This article delves into this worrying phenomenon, exploring how countries once at the forefront of green initiatives are now witnessing a shift in public opinion. 

👉 Why is there a growing backlash against climate change policies? And what can be done to change the tide of public opinion?

Is there a growing resistance to climate change policies around the world?

There’s a concerning trend taking hold around the world: a growing tide of resistance to climate change policies. Just earlier this year, the UK’s prime minister, Rishi Sunak, backtracked on a number of key environmental policies; in Germany plans to introduce green home-heating regulations were thrown out, and green policies were a central point of debate during the recent Dutch elections which saw the unexpected rise of the far-right Freedom Party (PVV) - the party’s platform includes plans to exit the Paris Climate Agreement and dismantle green legislation. 

And it’s not just Europe that is experiencing a backlash against climate change policies. The environment is set to become a hot topic in the upcoming presidential election in the US too. Donald Trump has firmly positioned himself as pro-business, stating that it’s not possible to back American workers and environmental policies at the same time. He’s warned his supporters that Joe Biden and the so-called “environmental lunatics” will destroy the automobile industry with overreaching climate change policies. There’s the sense that there’s a real culture war brewing around the topic of environmentalism. 

Of course, this is highly concerning for the fight against climate change. How will the world cut carbon emissions and limit global warming to a rise of 1.5 degrees Celsius if some of the largest economies and most powerful countries are reneging on their climate commitments and green policies? 

Yet, it’s important to acknowledge that there are real issues at play here, and genuine concerns underpin this growing sentiment. If we’re to ensure that governments remain committed to climate action, and maintain support from the public, we need to understand where this resistance to climate change policies is coming from. 

👉 To learn more about why climate change is such a growing issue head over to our blog

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What are the economic and social factors fuelling resistance?

Decarbonizing the economy is disruptive. Transitioning to net zero means making sacrifices. Green policies can incur expensive up-front costs. These are all true - in the short term, it’s likely that the net-zero transition will bring about some level of discomfort. And this is part of the reason for the growing backlash against climate change policies. Ordinary citizens are being asked to absorb additional costs and implement changes to their already over-stretched lives. For some - particularly the elderly - there’s also the realization that these measures won’t bring any benefit in their lifetimes. 

Making the situation even worse is the ongoing cost of living crisis. Recent geopolitical events such as the war in Ukraine, and the conflict taking place in Gaza are adding strain to economies. Inflation is high in many countries and the price of basic necessities is rising. It’s no wonder that citizens, who are being asked to spend more on electric cars or to fund green policies with their taxpayer money, are more reluctant to do so.

This is why it’s not necessarily the case that citizens are actively turning against climate change policies; it’s that they’re simply concerned about the financial burden or lifestyle adjustments involved. This apprehension, however, makes them vulnerable to the manipulation of populist politicians who are able to prey on these concerns and fuel the backlash against climate change policies even further.

Influence of populism

The current challenging economic situation is the backdrop but it’s not the whole picture. Populism has been on the rise for a while now and has been fuelling resistance to climate change policies. In a number of rich democracies, we’re witnessing a worrying trend: there’s growing polarisation amongst citizens on a number of topics including climate change, and this gap seems to be growing. 

Populist politicians are seizing the opportunity that this divide has created. They’re taking genuine problems - such as the cost of living crisis as outlined in the previous section - and playing on these concerns by stoking the fire, claiming that the left “elite” are responsible for green policies and don’t care about the everyday citizen - who often rely on their car and are more concerned about being able to afford food and heating than some lofty environmental ideals. 

Another concerning aspect of the rise of populism is their indifference to experts. Recent polls show that 87% of Biden supporters believe that climate change is caused by human action, whereas only 21% of Trump supporters agreed. It’s very hard to convince someone when they refuse to listen to experts and distrust scientific evidence. 

Another trait of the populist movement is a distrust of international institutions and disdain for globalism. Climate change is a global issue that needs to be dealt with not only at a national level but at a global level too. Concerted international action is a big part of the puzzle, whether this is in the form of international climate commitments and targets, the cross-border sharing of green technology and environmental research, or international funding for climate change mitigation and adaptation. When countries become more insular there is less scope for international cooperation on issues such as climate change. 

👉 To read more about how populism gains from transition issues take a look at our article on the topic. 

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Growing backlash in the world’s green economies

We’ve touched on how the growing resistance to climate change is felt most in some of the world's wealthiest and “greenest” countries. Countries like the UK, Germany, Sweden, the US, etc. Such nations have historically led environmental initiatives, but we’re starting to witness a swing in voter opinion, particularly among the older and more right-wing segments of society. 

Conversely, developing countries like China and India - countries that are often viewed as major polluters - are now starting to make big strides when it comes to green technology and renewables. China for example is investing heavily in wind and solar power, recognising the importance of decarbonisation. India has also set ambitious climate targets and is aiming to triple its renewable energy production before the end of this decade. 

However, this trend sadly isn’t replicated across all developing countries. Brazil, for instance, experienced a troubling few years under the rule of Jair Bolsonaro. Bolsonaro stripped back environmental protections, weakened green policies, and oversaw a 150% increase in deforestation of the Amazon rainforest. Thankfully, Bolsonaro’s tenure came to an end when he was replaced by Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in January 2023. Lula offers renewed hope for the country's climate change policies and for the Amazon rainforest - the so-called lungs of the Earth. 

What these examples show us is how vulnerable climate change progress is to political currents. A country’s environmental priorities and climate change policies can change drastically in a matter of only a few years. 

However, we’re not completely at the mercy of changing political tides, global pressure and the electoral choices of citizens have the potential to safeguard and advance climate initiatives. These dynamics demonstrate that while political currents can challenge climate progress, informed and engaged citizenry, coupled with international collaboration, can play a pivotal role in sustaining and protecting climate change policies against shifting political winds.

👉 Find out more about the challenges of the net zero transition in China and India on our blog. 

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Strategies to overcome resistance to climate change policies

If governments and climate advocates want to effectively address the growing backlash to climate change policies the good news is that there are a number of effective strategies available. Perhaps the most important one is public education, aimed at raising awareness of the urgency of climate change and the impacts of global warming and dispelling misconceptions. 

One common public perception for example is that going green requires significant upfront costs and that average citizens will see their bills go up - but this isn’t actually always the case. Oftentimes there are government grants and funding available to assist with the transition, or the purchase of electric vehicles may be subsidised. Another consideration is that although the upfront cost of implementing green technology might be slightly higher, the long-term savings often significantly outweigh these extra costs. If more people were aware of these factors it’s possible that they would be less opposed to climate change policies based on financial concerns, which is why public communication is so crucial. 

Leading on from the point above, governments should also look to facilitate the net zero transition for their citizens and ease the upfront cost burden by offering subsidies for renewable energy adoption, tax breaks, and financial assistance for transitioning to greener technologies. In a time of increasing financial pressure, governments need to make the transition easier for households that are already struggling. Governments should look to introduce incentives for green choices as opposed to simply imposing bans and introducing penalties. 

Gradual implementation of policies is also important, as is planning ahead. The UK Government’s recent U-turn on a number of green policies actually angered businesses around the country - they were frustrated by the lack of forward planning and confusion that the turnaround had introduced. Long-term targets and oversight of climate change policies make the transition much less painful for both businesses and consumers. It also allows concerns to be raised and for any issues to be ironed out ahead of time. 

Another imperative for governments is that they ensure their climate change policies are deliverable with tangible benefits to both society and individuals. It’s important for members of the public to see that net-zero policies are effective. One way to achieve this is to be selective in the areas that are targeted - a good strategy for example is to target the highest emission areas. Another way to highlight the benefits of the net-zero transition is to focus on what it will deliver for the economy in terms of green jobs and other economic opportunities. 

What’s clear is that these strategies require a balance between firm commitment to environmental goals and sensitivity to the needs and concerns of citizens in a rapidly changing world. Politicians seizing upon the fears of citizens and politicizing the environment for their own gain are especially problematic and something that needs to be kept in check by keeping a close eye on the temperature of public opinion and addressing their concerns head-on. It’s also important to hold politicians to climate commitments through international pressure and legally binding environmental targets.
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Round up

The growing resistance to climate change policies across the globe, particularly in nations that were once environmental trailblazers, reveals the complex interplay of economics, politics, and social dynamics in shaping public opinion and policy. However, this trend is not insurmountable. Through targeted public education, financial incentives, and well-planned policy implementation, there is a path forward. It requires a delicate balance of addressing immediate public concerns while maintaining a steadfast commitment to long-term environmental goals. The challenge lies not just in policy formulation but also in winning the hearts and minds of citizens, ensuring that climate action remains a shared global priority, resilient to the volatility of political change.

What about Greenly?

At Greenly we can help you to assess your company’s carbon footprint, and then give you the tools you need to cut down on emissions. Why not request a free demo with one of our experts - no obligation or commitment required. 

If reading this article has inspired you to consider your company’s own carbon footprint, Greenly can help. Learn more about Greenly’s carbon management platform here.

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