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Super election year: What are candidates in the UK, US and Australia planning on the climate?

With the slogan 'Unity - Against far right - For freedom, so that Europe remains democratic' a Green Party election poster for the European Elections.
With the slogan 'Unity - Against far right - For freedom, so that Europe remains democratic' a Green Party election poster for the European Elections. Copyright AP Photo/Markus Schreiber
Copyright AP Photo/Markus Schreiber
By Rosie Frost
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In a major election year, approaches to climate policies around the world range from outright rollbacks to uncertainty and a lack of focus on the key issues.

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The EU Parliamentary election results have ended the greenest European Parliament ever. The last five years have seen the bloc embrace one of the most ambitious climate strategies in the world, the Green Deal.

Now Green parties have shed seats, dropping from the fourth largest group to the sixth with 53 seats.

The mainstream parties which supported the Green Deal kept their majority which means it likely isn’t going anywhere. But with wins for radical parties on both the left and right - which often oppose the plan - it could mean a fight to push for further measures to meet net-zero targets.

Measures that have already been adopted can be defended but new ones aimed at drastically reducing emissions by 2040 could lead to disagreements. It is likely to be one of the major tests of this new parliament as it establishes itself.

The EU isn’t the only place facing a backlash against green policies, either.

In a major election year, approaches to climate policies around the world range from outright rollbacks to uncertainty and a lack of focus on the key issues.

Climate criticism and confusion ahead of the UK election

In the UK, both Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and his challenger Labour leader Keir Starmer’s approaches to climate policies have drawn criticism.

Sunak used the first TV debate ahead of the general election on 4 July to stoke fears over the cost of the net-zero transition.

He attacked initiatives to promote heat pumps and electric cars as well as those to increase the UK’s share of renewable energy. The Prime Minister said these measures would cost each household “thousands of pounds”.

Many of Starmer’s plans revolve around energy plans with an initial £8 billion (€9.5 billion) boost for its Great British Energy Company.

Labour rowed back a promise to spend £28 billion (€33.2 billion) on climate earlier this year and polls have shown half of voters unsure where exactly the Labour leader stands on climate change.

Results from a Survation poll commissioned by Greenpeace found that half of voters were unsure of Labour’s climate plans and less than a third of people believe they know what the party would do in government.

Greenpeace is calling for Starmer to be clearer on what policies he has planned, claiming Labour has the opportunity to win over voters who want action on climate change.

Despite climate change consistently polling as a top concern for voters, it doesn’t seem to be particularly high on the agenda for the two main rivals in the UK’s general election.

Climate promises called out in Australia

An election is also on the horizon this year in Australia. Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has said the opposition Liberal Party will roll back the country’s target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 if it wins.

In a newspaper interview, opposition leader Peter Dutton dismissed plans - which are enshrined in law - to cut emissions to 43 per cent below 2005 levels by the end of the decade. He told The Weekend Australian that there was “no sense in signing up to targets you don’t have any prospects of achieving”.

Australia’s Climate Change Authority forecast last November that a 37 to 42 per cent cut would be achieved. But Albanese has said the target is within reach, claiming Dutton was “walking away from climate action” and abandoning the 2030 goal would mean “walking away from the Paris Accord”.

The Liberal Party has contested this saying it is “absolutely” committed to the Paris Agreement and has a plan to achieve net zero by 2050. It claims it was calling the government out for promises it couldn’t keep.

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Both Albanese’s Labor Party and the Liberal Party want more renewable energy but their routes to achieving it differ. Labor wants more renewables like solar and wind while the Liberal Party is looking to introduce Australia’s first nuclear power.

A polarised presidential election in the US

A US presidential election later this year is likely to see much more polarised approaches to climate action.

President Joe Biden has invested an historic $300bn (€280 billion) into clean energy and climate initiatives through the Inflation Reduction Act. At the same time, he has been criticised for actions that have boosted oil and gas production.

Trump’s climate policy plans are not necessarily clear but during his last term, the US withdrew from the Paris Agreement. Biden moved to reinstate it just hours after he was sworn in as president in 2021.

An analysis by Carbon Brief found that a win for Trump in November’s presidential election could lead to an additional 4 billion tonnes of US emissions by 2030. That’s the equivalent of the EU and Japan’s emissions combined or those of the world’s 140 lowest emitting countries.

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