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Climate change is heating up the election — and the right gets set on fire.
On Saturday, Australian voters ousted the Liberal-National government of Scott Morrison from power in what has been dubbed the country’s “climate election”. Senior Liberals have been driven out of party town centres, losing six seats to pro-climate independents and at least one to the Greens.
New Labor Prime Minister Anthony Albanese traveled to Japan on Monday to meet leaders of the Quad – a group comprising Australia, India, Japan and the United States – bearing a message: “There is a new government in Australia, and it’s a government that represents a change in terms of how we treat the world on issues like climate change.
The role climate plays in Australian politics is extreme, but not unique. Climate change is becoming an election issue, and other governments also risk being hurt or overwhelmed on the left by voters who want more climate action.
In Germany, the center right was swept away by a green wave. Britain’s ruling Conservatives are under pressure from climate rebels on the party’s right wing. In France, it is a problem for the center. In the United States, Joe Biden seems to have to suffer.
That’s why Australia’s election is a wake-up call to “centre-right parties around the world”, said John Flesher, international spokesman for the UK Conservative Environment Network, a lobby group that aims to promote environmentalism in the world. within the Conservative Party. “Voters on all sides want politicians to act decisively to tackle climate change.”
Down Under, Morrison’s defeat is analyzed more starkly.
“They tried to screw up their climate policies and they got punished,” said Richie Merzian, a former Australian diplomat who is now director of the climate and energy program at the Australia Institute.
It is the most dramatic example of a series of recent elections in which the climate has played a role.
In Germany in September, the Christian Democrats (CDU) lost their 16-year grip on power to a coalition of Social Democrats, Free Democrats and Greens. Despite ex-Chancellor Angela Merkel embracing one of the world’s most ambitious net-zero policies, the party’s commitment lost credibility when CDU leader Armin Laschet was caught on camera of laughter during a visit to a city hit by devastating floods last summer and he refused to change policy amid calls for a stronger response. The Greens took third place and received ministries responsible for cleaning up the German economy.
The CDU’s defeat is not only due to climate change, but “our poor performance” was a factor, said Peter Liese, Member of the European Parliament for the CDU. The “recipe for success”, he said, includes stronger climate policy.
Now some CDU figures are pushing the party to realign and hit the Greens as they struggle to turn their ambitions into politics. “Each party should critically examine its own climate policy goals… This is not only true for the CDU, but also for the Greens,” said Wiebke Winter, member of the board of directors of the CDU and member of its youth wing.
In France last month, incumbent President Emmanuel Macron rushed to craft a new green agenda in the final two weeks of the presidential election campaign after a surprisingly strong challenge from far-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who promised stronger climate action.
Duly re-elected, Macron embraced Mélenchon’s centralized long-term environmental planning policy and this week was sworn in to a team of ministers tasked with that mission. But Mélenchon is still putting him under pressure, assembling a coalition of green and left parties with the explicit aim of depriving Macron’s coalition of a majority in the June legislative elections.
In the United States, Democrats have appalled left-wing activists with their failure to convince one of their own – Senator Joe Manchin – to pass major climate legislation in the Senate. This risks compounding the party’s problems in November’s midterm elections, said Jamal Raad, executive director of Evergreen Action. Biden won support from young climate-concerned voters in 2020, but now “the fear is that they won’t vote,” Raad said.
The danger often comes from within.
In Australia, Morrison’s Liberal-National coalition is split between a moderate wing and a right-wing faction that has fought off even rudimentary attempts to push emissions-cutting policies forward. The British Tories and Germany’s CDU also feature anti-climate lobby groups that aim to stoke voters’ concerns about the rising cost of living with green politics.
This makes them vulnerable to overflow. In the UK, the Conservative Party has been told by pollsters that the climate is a matter of ‘permission to play’ in terms of credibility with voters, leading Prime Minister Boris Johnson to revisit his past climate skepticism and to present himself as an evangelist for ECOLOGICAL problems.
The Conservative Party has a climate-skeptical wing which, so far, has not changed government policy on the issue. But if Johnson gives in to their pressure, Flesher said Australian losses in central Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney could easily be repeated in Surrey, Canterbury or Wimbledon.
“It could happen in the UK’s so-called ‘blue wall’ if the Tories watered down the bold environmental platform that helped secure a landslide for the party in 2019,” he said, referring to southern constituencies that might be vulnerable to Labor or the Liberal Democrats. candidates. Vote by green groups supported this, indicating that climate concerns are stronger in conservative strongholds than in the rest of the country.
In Australia, the lessons the Liberal-National Coalition draws from its defeat could determine its electoral future.
Climate policies have been toxic for over a decade. Morrison is the fifth prime minister to lose his job in the so-called ‘climate wars’ – but the only one to lose it because his efforts were not seen as ambitious enough.
In the days after the election, the divide within the Climate Coalition was marked: Moderate Liberals urged the party to return to the centre, while Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce said the party could drop out its net zero commitment completely.
It could play into the hands of the “teal” independents – liberal blue mixed with a touch of green – who burned liberal cleats in this election.
“I’m not convinced that drifting further to the right will help [the Coalition] in an electorate like mine,” said Zoe Daniel, the newly elected Independent MP for Melbourne’s Inner Electorate from Goldstein, where she said the climate was “the number one issue for most people.”
A former journalist, Daniel said she was exactly the kind of “socially progressive and economically conservative” voter the Liberals had lost to their failure to act on climate.
Like last year in Germany, climate change has intervened directly in Australian politics.
Morrison’s first full term as prime minister was “driven by unprecedented bushfires and unprecedented flooding, both supercharged by climate change,” Merzian said. Morrison had his Laschet moment when he flew to Hawaii during the fires, saying in an interview, “‘I’m not holding a pipe, mate.’
In Brisbane, where floods have repeatedly submerged the city and surrounding country in recent months, the Greens have won two seats and are vying for a third, at least tripling their representation in the lower house of the national parliament.
Seeing climate change in stark reality “really scared people,” Daniel said. Voters felt that “time is running out. That you can’t keep thinking, “Oh, well, that’s something that’s going to happen later.” “
But the Teals have tapped into another fear, one that echoes along Melbourne’s affluent bay and Sydney’s rows of millionaires: the fear of a missed opportunity.
“The corporate world is way ahead of government when it comes to climate policy action,” she said. “I think the penny has dropped for a lot of people that it’s an economic issue and we really need to act on that. Otherwise, our prosperity will be threatened.
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