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The Politics of Climate Change: A Global Challenge

Writer: Sara Bozyel

Climate change is undeniably one of the most severe problems of our time, causing global destruction with far-reaching consequences that extend into nearly every facet of human life. Its profound impacts on our environment, societies, and economies necessitate a collective and comprehensive response. As we navigate the intricate landscape of climate politics, this article aims to provide an insightful overview of the multifaceted dynamics surrounding the issue and dive into the role of activism in shaping it.

The Science of Climate Change

The scientific understanding of climate change provides the foundation for all political and policy discussions surrounding this global challenge. At its core, climate change refers to long-term alterations in Earth's average weather patterns, including variations in temperature, precipitation, and extreme weather events. While natural factors have historically influenced climate, the overwhelming majority of climate scientists agree that human activity, particularly the burning of fossil fuels, is the primary cause of the undeniable increase in global temperatures (Jackson, 2023). Since 1800, deforestation, other land-use changes, and industrial and agricultural activities such as cement production and animal husbandry have contributed to the buildup of greenhouse gasses (Schneider et al., 2006). This heightened concentration of greenhouse gasses, such as carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), and nitrous oxide (N2O), intensifies the natural greenhouse effect, trapping heat, leading to global warming and the alteration of climate patterns on a scale not seen in thousands of years. According to (Ruddiman, 2003), a controversial hypothesis suggests that humans have been altering the atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4) for thousands of years. This is believed to be a result of the discovery of agriculture and subsequent advancements in farming technology. According to this theory, the early anthropogenic CO2 and CH4 emissions offset the natural cooling that would have otherwise occurred. 

Fig. 1: Explaining temperature trends using natural and anthropogenic forcing. (IPCC, 2001)

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a leading international body of climate scientists, has produced a series of reports on the scientific consensus on climate change (Rosen, 2021). These reports emphasize the urgency of limiting global warming to avoid catastrophic consequences, including widespread food and water scarcity, displacement of communities, and disruptions in global security. According to the statement of the IPCC climate scientists, global temperatures have risen abnormally each year since 1860 often concealing an overall increase of approximately 0.7°C. However, there is an evident upward trend throughout the 20th century, as shown in Figure 1.1, which makes it noticeable the rapid rise at the end of the 20th century (Schneider et al., 2006). The interplay between the scientific community and the political world is central to addressing this critical issue.

International Climate Agreements

In the face of increasing environmental threats, international collaboration has become crucial in addressing climate change. The Paris Agreement, adopted in 2015, stands as a historic achievement in international climate diplomacy (Höhne et al., 2017). According to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), this agreement united nations in their commitment to managing global warming below two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, with the aspirational goal of limiting it to 1.5°C. Despite being a significant step forward, the Paris Agreement still faces challenges regarding enforcement mechanisms and equitable distribution of responsibilities among nations (Gupta et al., 2018).

Fig. 2: Shows possible global warming scenarios relative to pre-industrial levels in Celsius over the next century. (IPCC, 2018)

Despite these complexities, the international climate landscape is a diverse tapestry with promising developments. Individual nations, each with their unique circumstances and priorities, are actively crafting climate policies tailored to their specific contexts (Haas, 2019). Some countries, like Germany, with its ambitious Energiewende program, have emerged as leaders in the field, demonstrating the transformative potential of innovative climate policies (Jacobson et al., 2011). These examples serve as beacons of hope, showcasing the feasibility of achieving ambitious climate goals while simultaneously driving economic growth and technological innovation (Höhne et al., 2017). The effective execution of climate action demands a comprehensive understanding of the challenges and opportunities in the global climate landscape.

Political Parties and Climate Change

The urgency and gravity of climate change have brought the issue to the global political stage, where it is a highly debated topic. Political parties have significantly influenced climate policies, with their positions and ideologies impacting the effectiveness of mitigation efforts (Höhne et al., 2017). Some parties prioritize ambitious climate action, while others question its severity and anthropogenic origins.

1. Parties Prioritizing Ambitious Action:

Green Parties: Often at the forefront of climate action, these parties advocate for stringent mitigation measures like carbon pricing, renewable energy investments, and robust environmental regulations. Their influence can be seen in the ambitious climate policies adopted by countries like Germany, Denmark, and Sweden, where Green parties have significant political representation. (Dryzek et al., 2012).

Progressive Parties: Recognizing the situation's urgency, these parties advocate for a transition to a low-carbon economy and support policies that address climate change and social inequality (Dryzek et al., 2012). Examples include parties like the Movimiento Al Socialismo in Bolivia, which has implemented policies promoting renewable energy and sustainable land management (Dryzek et al., 2012). 

The Democratic Party in the United States: Although there may be some variation within the Democratic Party, they generally accept the scientific consensus on climate change and endorse policies such as the Paris Agreement and carbon pricing mechanisms (Stokes et al., 2020). This is reflected in their support for initiatives such as the Clean Power Plan and recent legislation like the Inflation Reduction Act, which includes significant investments in clean energy and climate action.

2. Parties Questioning the Severity or Anthropogenic Origins of Climate Change: 

The Republican Party in the United States: This party generally expresses skepticism about the urgency and human-caused nature of climate change. Often prioritizing economic concerns over environmental issues, they tend to favor policies that promote fossil fuel development and oppose stringent regulations on greenhouse gas emissions. The Trump administration's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement and rollback of environmental regulations are examples of this approach (Dunlap et al., 2011).

The Liberal-National Party in Australia: Similar to the Republican Party, this party has historically downplayed the severity of climate change and prioritized fossil fuel industries (Dunlap et al., 2011). Their influence can be seen in Australia's relatively slow progress on greenhouse gas reductions compared to other developed nations. 

Conservative Parties in Europe: While some European conservative parties acknowledge climate change, they often advocate for a less interventionist approach than their Green counterparts. They tend to favor market-based solutions and technological advancements rather than stringent regulations, arguing that these methods would be more effective and less economically disruptive (Dunlap et al., 2011).

Determining the precise impact of individual political parties on climate change is complex and requires a multifaceted analysis. Factors such as the party's political power, the specific policies implemented, and global geopolitical dynamics all contribute to the overall outcome (Dunlap et al., 2011). However, it is undeniable that the divergent positions of political parties play a significant role in shaping the global response to climate change. Parties prioritizing ambitious action have demonstrably implemented effective policies that contribute to emissions reductions and promote sustainable development (Dunlap et al., 2011). Conversely, parties questioning the severity of climate change have often impeded progress by rolling back environmental regulations and promoting fossil fuel dependence.

Partisan Influence

Partisan politics play a significant role in shaping climate policy. Parties with divergent stances on climate change often engage in heated debates and political maneuvering, aiming to advance their respective agendas (Mayer et al., 2023). This can lead to policy gridlock and hinder progress on emissions reduction targets. Furthermore, political parties can influence public opinion through their messaging and actions, shaping societal perceptions of climate change and contributing to the polarization of the issue. Partisan influence is a significant factor in shaping individuals' beliefs and actions regarding climate change.

Partisanship is a strong predictor of climate change beliefs. Democrats are much more likely to believe in human-caused climate change and express concern about its impacts than Republicans. This gap has been widening in recent decades (Mayer et al., 2023). Partisan information sources often present contrasting perspectives on climate change. Conservative media outlets tend to downplay the severity of climate change, while liberal media outlets emphasize it. This can lead to "motivated reasoning," where individuals selectively pay attention to information that confirms their existing beliefs (Mayer et al., 2023). Partisan identity can lead to social pressure to conform to the group's views. Individuals may feel uncomfortable expressing climate change concerns if they fear rejection from their social circle.

Fig. 3: Shows the partisan gap influences on climate change over the two parties that say global warming is a top priority. (The New York Times, 2020)

Partisan polarization has created a major obstacle to climate action. Democrats generally support government intervention to address climate change, while Republicans tend to oppose it. This has led to gridlock in Congress and made it difficult to pass comprehensive climate legislation. Partisan considerations often influence the implementation of environmental policies (Mayer et al., 2023). For example, Republican administrations have rolled back environmental regulations, while Democratic administrations have strengthened them. Partisan differences can also affect public support for climate change policies. Research suggests that individuals are more likely to support policies if they are framed in ways that align with their partisan identity (Mayer et al., 2023).

As a consequence, the partisan divide on climate change has hampered progress in addressing this global challenge (Mayer et al., 2023). It has slowed the development and implementation of effective climate policies and contributed to a need for more public consensus on the issue.

Environmental Justice

Environmental justice, a cornerstone of climate politics, demands an equitable distribution of both the burdens and benefits of climate change (Bullard, 1993). Vulnerable communities, often marginalized and disadvantaged, disproportionately bear the brunt of its devastating impacts. This injustice arises from historical and ongoing inequities in resource allocation and the deliberate siting of polluting industries in communities lacking political and economic power (Bullard, 1993).

Examples of such communities abound. Low-income and minority neighborhoods in the United States are more likely to be located near hazardous waste sites and suffer higher exposure to air and water pollution, resulting in increased rates of respiratory illnesses and other health problems (Bullard, 1993). Island nations, many with limited resources and contributing minimally to global emissions, face existential threats from rising sea levels and increasingly severe weather events. These disparities highlight the urgency of addressing environmental justice within the broader framework of climate politics.

In conclusion, climate change is not merely an environmental concern but a deeply political issue that demands global cooperation. The science is clear, the international agreements are in place, and public opinion is increasingly vocal. As we confront the political dimensions of climate change, it is evident that action on both individual and collective levels is not just an option but an imperative. Addressing climate change through political means and global cooperation is not only essential for our future but an opportunity to build a more sustainable, equitable, and resilient world for generations to come.


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1 Comment

Congrats on writing such a great article! Looking forward to reading your future articles 😊