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Member's blog - Other
Dark forces are acting on Climate Change Policies in Europe, and the World
Author: John Middleton
The world is burning and drowning. In this year of record temperatures of the air, the atmosphere and the sea, we are witnessing extreme climatic events from Acapulco to Libya, from northern China to East Africa. In Europe we have seen catastrophic forest fires and floods over the last three summers, affecting Greece, Portugal, Spain, and France. Climate records are being continuously broken. Climate breakdown is happening before our eyes. More than 190 countries accept climate change as a real and existential threat and signed the Paris Agreement to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels collectively. We seem unable to take the necessary international action to tackle climate breakdown, by reducing our carbon footprints and stopping burning of fossil fuels. The situation is urgent. We are in a climate emergency. The only climate deniers at government level are now Russia and North Korea. So why is there so little evidence of shared concerted action towards an internationally recognised problem, and an internationally agreed treaty? Why and how has climate denial been allowed to reassert itself? And why is it still being given a platform? There are various actors, dark forces for climate denial, including political parties, industries, and think tanks, that are funded extensively by the fossil fuel industry. They are actively engaged in preventing action for reducing carbon emissions and are contributing to the likelihood of climate catastrophe. This paper describes some of the actions of these dark forces for climate disaster and examines strategies to address their influence.
1. Actors Influencing Climate Change Policies
1.1 Political Parties
Right-wing political parties across Europe have been at the forefront of efforts to undermine climate change policies. These parties, such as the Forum voor Democratie in the Netherlands, Rassemblement National (RN) in France, and Alternative für Deutschland in Germany, often share a common agenda. For instance, the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) questions the scientific consensus on man-made climate change and calls for an end to decarbonization efforts. They also aim to repeal the "Climate Action Plan 2050" of the German Federal Government. These parties frequently have connections to like-minded groups and individuals in the United States, further amplifying their influence on the climate policy landscape.
Populist politics created the illusion of politicians who have the interests of the common people at heart; threats to people’s ways of life are the work of political, and scientific, expert elites, who have ulterior motives which are implied and unexplained, to be feared. People naturally wish to retain their lifestyles and possessions and find comfort in the familiar. So, if a powerful political party conveys messages that change isn’t needed, they are likely to find popular support, at the same time maintaining the profits of the fossil fuel industry. The more sinister and direct influences on political processes and opinion shaping, can be seen in two recent examples. Fossil fuel funding of the ‘Atlas Network’ undermined the yes vote in the Constitutional Recognition of Indigenous Australia referendum in October this year. Fossil fuel interests need unbridled access to indigenous territories for oil, gas and coal exploration, and a yes vote threatened to give additional constitutional strength to new opposition for exploration licences. In the UK, Prime Minister Sunak is weaponizing climate change as a force that will damage the livelihoods and lifestyles of British people (Carbon Brief, 2023). At the current COP28 he described his ‘watering down’ of UK climate policy, and achieved only disdain from global leaders.
Several industries have a vested interest in obstructing climate change policies, especially those that would reduce their profitability. Notable examples include fossil fuel companies and banks. Major banks, such as JPMorgan Chase, Britain's Barclays, and France's BNP Paribas, have collectively facilitated substantial fossil fuel investments since the Paris Climate Agreement. Paradoxically, these banks have committed to reducing their emissions and achieving net-zero status by 2050. Are they serious about their commitments to net zero in the light of their ongoing financial support for fossil fuels? .
Industries such as the tobacco, and fossil fuel sectors actively engage in efforts to shape climate policies, with the aim of preserving their interests and opposing stricter environmental regulations. Fossil fuel companies employ ‘Merchants of Doubt’ — rogue scientists to ask apparently plausible questions of climate scientists, merely to create uncertainty and delay decisions by policymakers and the public. They are using all the tools in the tobacco industry playbook.
1.3 Think Tanks
Think tanks play a significant role in shaping public discourse and influencing policymakers. A range of think tanks in Europe, such as the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), Austrian Economics Center (AEC), Europäisches Institut für Klima und Energie (EIKE), and the (UK) Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), have propagated climate scepticism and opposed climate action. These think tanks have varying degrees of influence in their respective countries, but collectively they form part of a broader network that seeks to advance a laissez-faire economic agenda and resist government intervention in environmental matters. The sources of funding for some of these think tanks is often secretive. It is known for instance that the Koch Brothers foundation have funded some of these think tanks in advancing to cause of fossil fuel industry and the IEA has been funded by the tobacco industry, fossil fuel and gambling.
Additionally, organizations like the Atlas Network have established international coalitions to promote ultra-free markets and limited (‘small’?) government. These networks collaborate with right-wing think tanks across the world, fostering the spread of climate scepticism and pro-business policies.
2. How to Handle Their Influence
Addressing the influence of these actors on climate change policies in Europe requires a multifaceted approach. It is crucial to prioritize the dissemination of accurate information and science-based evidence to counter climate scepticism. Policymakers should also be encouraged to resist the influence of vested interests, including industries and political parties, by enacting strict regulations and promoting transparency in political financing.
Conflicts of interest need to be challenged and called out by journalists – current affairs interviewers need to ask who a speaker is representing and who funds them, when they are broadcast. Politicians need to be challenged to declare all their business interests outside their parliamentary work and demonstrate that they are not financially benefit from the causes they champion.
Individual governments will need to ensure they police the activities of think tanks looking critically at where they are misusing public funding, getting access to politicians inappropriately, using governance mechanisms like charitable status which are far from the reality.
Additionally, fostering international cooperation among progressive actors and governments can help counter the global reach of right-wing networks. This includes the exchange of best practices, sharing research, and developing a united front to tackle climate change.
Europe faces a significant challenge in addressing climate change, given the presence of various actors seeking to undermine climate policies. These actors, including right-wing political parties, industries, and think tanks, often work together to advance their agendas. A sense of "us-against-them" and the propagation of conspiracy theories further complicate the situation (Molas 2022). Conservative media outlets, such as FOX News, and people on social media are playing a major role in amplifying these voices.
Addressing the influence of these actors necessitates a combination of information dissemination, regulation, and international cooperation. Europe must recognize the interconnected nature of the climate countermovement and take concerted action to advance climate change policies that are grounded in scientific evidence and aimed at a sustainable, environmentally conscious future.
The Conference of the Partners (COP) to implement the Framework convention of climate change has always been shrouded in controversy and with evident interference by lobbyists for the fossil fuel industry. Their tactics have appeared to undermine new international agreements on how to implement carbon reduction targets. Lobbyists have used their influence to overstate their efforts to tackle carbon pollution (‘greenwashing’). Perhaps this was most notable in how the airline industry and shipping industries absented themselves from the Paris agreement. COP27 was criticised for having more than 600 industry representatives, flooding the available space for the fair exchange of views. The international community could take the position of the Framework Convention of Tobacco, and not permit any industry representatives to be present at the Conference of the Parties. At least in this COP, industry representatives will be so identified. This November, prior to the COP, there was already major concern about the ‘colossal conflict of interest’ of the President of the COP, Sultan Al Jaber, Chief Executive of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company. This criticism has now been eclipsed by the extraordinary revelation that the COP is being used, not to plan to reduce carbon emissions, but to plan and do delays for the next wave of oil and gas exploration, involving multiple oil and gas corporations, nationalised industries, and governments. A formal international body convened to protect health and the global environment has been turned into a trade fair, peddling the most destructive of goods. It is a truly bizarre and sickening betrayal of the purpose of the Conference, and an ultimate sell out for the poorest members of the global community who suffer most the consequences of climate breakdown.
Jannik Wagner, Masters in Governance and Leadership in European Public Health student, Department of International Health, FHML, Maastricht University, Maastricht, the Netherlands
John Middleton, Honorary Professor of Public Health, Wolverhampton University, UK. Vice President, Global Network For Academic Public Health, Immediate Past-President, Association of Schools of Public Health in the European Region
Katarzyna Czabanowska, Professor of Public Health Leadership and Workforce Development, Head of Department of International Health, Care and Public Health Research Institute, (CAPHRI), FMHL, Maastricht University. Maastricht, the Netherlands