Public's Interest Is Changing Climate Politics

Rise of Green parties has moved global warming up the priority list for nations
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 1, 2021 4:35 PM CDT
Public's Interest Is Changing Climate Politics
Angela Merkel, Germany's environment minister at the time, speaks at the UN summit on Climate in Berlin in 1995.   (AP Photo/Jan Bauer,file)

As world leaders arrived in Scotland for the UN climate conference, great strides against global warming may have seemed unlikely, given the vague promises made the day before at Rome's G20 summit. But climate activists have been here before, the Washington Post reports, going back to the first such summit in 1995. Unmet goals and broken pledges were the norm at that Berlin conference. But scientists and activists take comfort in the changed political climate. Now, "no one is questioning that the crisis is happening," said Annika Hedberg of the European Policy Center. "The debate is around what can be done and at what speed. This is a positive thing."

The leaders' constituencies have something to do with this. A recent poll found that 59% of Americans say the planet's warming is very or extremely important to them as an issue, up 10 points from 2018, per the AP. Members of both parties say climate change is real—89% of Democrats and 57% of Republicans. A Pew poll earlier this year found concern rapidly growing in several major economies, per NBC. That shift shows up in elections: The Green Party did better than ever when Germany voted last month, coming in third, and expects to be part of the nation's ruling coalition. "Our agenda has gone mainstream," said a Green member of Germany's legislature.

The world didn't pay much attention to the first climate conference, said the executive director of Greenpeace International, who's been to every one. The attendees mostly were climate scientists and environmental groups, based in Europe and North America, who set up meetings by passing paper notes around, per the Post. "The level of public engagement is massively different," Jennifer Morgan said. Among the obstacles that remain, she said, are the efforts of the fossil fuel industry to block action, albeit in a more subtle way. "It's not as full on," Morgan said. "It's the oil industry announcing net-zero targets, but then opposing legislation." (Read more UN climate summit stories.)

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