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How do right-wing populist parties influence climate change and renewable energy policies?

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How do right-wing populist parties influence climate change and renewable energy policies?

New research from the Department of Economics shows that right-wing populist political parties have a significant negative impact on climate change policy – and reveals how different political systems determine how much influence they have.

Researchers from the University of Warwick and University of Sussex analysed the influence of right-wing populist parties on climate and low-carbon energy policies in 31 OECD countries from 2007–2018, combining data on the quality of policies with data on right-wing populist representation in parliaments and governments.

Extending beyond the European focus of existing studies, they assessed how the influence of right-wing populist parties varies according to a country’s electoral system and compared countries both within and outside of the EU.

The researchers found that right-wing populists have a substantial negative impact on climate policy but not on renewable energy policy, suggesting that they are more ambivalent about renewable energy technologies.

They found that the impact of right-wing populists on climate policy is much greater in countries with two-party political systems, compared to those with proportional representation where they are likely to enter government as junior coalition partners with less influence.

The analysis revealed that in two-party systems, right-wing populists can have either a direct influence if they are in power, or an indirect influence through legislative debate and by pressurising other parties.

The research also showed that right-wing populists are more disruptive to climate change policy outside of the EU, where representatives in the European Parliament and Council are still largely from non-populist parties.

Professor Ben Lockwood highlighted key implications of the study: “The research shows that climate change policy is most vulnerable to the influence of right-wing populists in countries with majoritarian politics outside of Europe, as we saw in President Trump’s withdrawal of the US from the Paris Agreement in 2017.”

“However, many European countries with coalition governments have seen a long-term rise in right-wing populist representation and if this continues, it is likely that these parties will become more and more disruptive of climate policy.”

“It is often observed that right-wing populism focuses on perceived threats to national culture and, so far, the main emphasis of right-wing populists in Europe has been on immigration, and on Brexit in the UK. As mainstream parties concentrate increasingly on climate change this could shift and right-wing populists may put greater effort into controlling environmental regulation, which they often see as a threat to economic growth.”

Read the full paper

Lockwood, B. and Lockwood, M. (2022) ‘How do right-wing populist parties influence climate and renewable energy policies? Evidence from OECD countries’, Global Environmental Politics (forthcoming). Currently available as a Quantitative and Analytical Political Economy Research Centre (QAPEC) working paper.