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Rise of hard-right nationalists presents climate risk, experts warn

Influence of left-of-centre parties increase strength of government’s climate policy score by about 22 per cent

Samuel Webb
Friday 15 April 2022 19:16 BST
Right-wing populist leaders like Hungary’s Viktor Orban could be bad for the climate, research has found
Right-wing populist leaders like Hungary’s Viktor Orban could be bad for the climate, research has found (AP)

Right-wing parties are taking aim at climate policies as the cost of energy soars, experts have warned.

Populist and nationalist politicians could switch their attention away from blaming immigration and focus more on climate and energy policies if the cost of living crisis continues to significantly impact the lives and finances of voters, research from the University of Sussex Business School and the University of Warwick found.

Dr Matthew Lockwood, of the University of Sussex Business School, says the influence of left-of-centre parties increases the strength of a government’s climate policy score by about 22 per cent relative to the average score.

Meanwhile, the influence of right-wing populist parties leads to a 24 per cent reduction in climate policy scores.

The research also highlights how strongly majoritarian systems, when both the head of government and all the cabinet posts are held by right-wing populist parties, rate 58 per cent lower than the average.

However, the researchers did not find that the participation of right-wing populist parties in governments had any significant impact on renewable energy policies, according to the paper published on Friday in the journal Global Environmental Politics.

The research explains that nationalist parties may be accepting of at least some forms of renewable energy if it can help relieve energy security issues and limit reliance on energy supply from other countries, particularly for governments without domestic fossil fuel reserves.

Dr Lockwood said: “Conventional centre-right political parties have always been more reluctant to adopt strong climate policies, but the rise of right-wing populist parties and movements represents a threat of a different order.

“Our research suggests that while right-wing populists taking over mainstream centre-right parties is relatively rare, when they have done so, as with Donald Trump in the US, the impacts on climate policy have been strongly negative.

“Soaring energy prices potentially create a new opportunity for populists to attack policy, despite the fact that concern about climate change is at record levels.”

In the study, the researchers carried out a quantitative analysis of the effects of right-wing populist parties’ representation in the legislature and executive on climate and renewable energy policy for a number of OECD countries between 2007 and 2018. They combined data on the quality of policies with established datasets on right-wing populism and on parliaments and governments.

The influence of right-wing populist parties on climate policy is weaker in countries with PR electoral systems than those with majoritarian first-past-the-post systems, the study found.

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