They were elected with ambitious climate plans, but leftist governments around the world are under fire because they can’t keep many promises. “Left parties are soon accused of not taking good care of the economy.”

Deforestation in the Amazon continues even under leftist President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Although he said on his campaign trail that he wanted to reduce deforestation, the destruction of important rainforest in the first three months of 2023 was the second largest in history. Only last year more forest disappeared by a quarter.

Oil extraction and lignite extraction

The Brazilian president is not the only leftist head of government struggling to deliver on his climate promises. For example, US President Joe Biden last month approved controversial oil drilling in Alaska. And this even though Biden had promised his constituents that he would not issue new drilling licenses once he was in the White House.

In Germany, the ruling De Groenen party also had to make a painful decision: the energy company RWE obtained permission to dig up the ground near Lützerath to extract lignite. Hundreds of protesters occupied the abandoned ‘brown coal village’, but German police put an end to the protest earlier this year.

Climate policy affects the economy

“Actually, in many countries it is seen to be quite difficult. The practice is quite unruly,” says climate expert Louise van Schaik of the Clingendael Institute. “In particular, it shows how difficult it is to tackle climate change once it affects major economic interests.”

She sees that in that case the argument quickly arises that the policy would be bad for jobs and therefore oil and gas drilling or logging, for example, should continue. “It’s just very difficult to implement climate policies that affect the economy.”

blame the leftists

Still, according to Van Schaik, it helps if there are politicians in a government who really want to work on it: “Parties that say they take climate policy seriously usually take climate policy a little more seriously,” he explains. But even then, it remains difficult for governments to make plans a reality.

“What also plays a role is that left-wing parties are soon accused of spending too much money and not taking good care of the economy,” says the climate expert. “If they immediately come up with a lot of climate policies and are accused of destroying the economy, it will be quite difficult for them to implement the policy.”

‘The old policy still recedes’

Furthermore, the old policy continues to ‘weaken’, says Van Schaik. For example, President Lula of Brazil is still suffering the consequences of the relaxations that his right-wing predecessor Jair Bolsonaro implemented for logging in the Amazon. “It often takes a while before new policies are implemented.”

And even if governments managed to immediately turn their climate promises into action, the effect would not be immediately visible, emphasizes the Clingendael expert. “They can start things that will have a lot of effect in 3 or 4 years, but not yet.”

‘Tackling vested interests’

At the same time, according to Van Schaik, there are also bright spots: “You can see that things are going in the right direction. The energy transition is also accelerating in certain aspects, and countries also want to be faster and compete with each other.” . another.” For example, China wants to be completely climate neutral by 2060, while the European Union wants to achieve it 10 years sooner.

“But you also see how difficult it is to implement climate policies that ensure that the polluter pays, for example through a CO2 tax for companies,” he continues. “Vested interests and sacred cows will really have to be addressed and that is very difficult in all countries.”

Power of the European Union

As a positive exception, he mentions the European Union, where member states have made ‘tough deals and tough laws’ with each other, as the deadline to be completely climate neutral by 2050. “It also shows that the EU is doing very well on climate policy”.

And stricter rules are also increasingly being imposed on countries that want to trade with Europe, according to Van Schaik: “The EU is the largest economy in the world and it also uses that market power, and it will probably do so in increasing amounts.” older in the future.” . to encourage other countries to move faster on climate policy.”

Is the transition fast enough?

But those same countries also recognize that something must change quickly, the climate expert emphasizes. “There’s also an understanding there that having a sustainable economy is ultimately cheaper, because it’s cheaper if you don’t have to pump fuels like oil and gas out of the ground, but you can pull wind and solar power out of the air.” . , For example.”

“So I’m confident in that sense, the only question is whether it will go fast enough,” Van Schaik concludes. The crucial challenge for governments, he says, is therefore to resist vested interests ‘to speed up the transition’.

audio playback

Tom van ‘t Eind explains in study why it’s hard for left-wing governments to keep their climate promises