Climate Policy Crisis

US and Australian shelves are suddenly straining under the weight of planned climate change policies. In the space of a few days, American Democrats appear to have put climate and energy legislation on hold in favour of a Senate bill on immigration and Rudd’s government down under has unequivocally placed its proposed cap and trade scheme in political storage.

Behind both of these decisions is a complex set of national, political circumstances. In the case of the US it’s clear that Democrats have spotted electoral gain in forcing the Republicans’ hand on immigration and also significant risk in not doing so. As a result, climate and energy may have to wait; the political cost being the probable loss of the support of Republican Senator Lindsey Graham.

The case of Australia is perhaps more complex still but also all about the politics.

Underscoring both cases is a profound problem for advocates of climate change policy. Moves to address climate change are rarely top of the list of political priorities among those in favour and vociferously opposed by those against. ippr’s UK Climate of Opinion poll underlines this point with perfect clarity. Matthew’s recent post contains its results for the first part of the argument and sometime soon we’ll find time to dig out the data that shows how, on the other side of the equation, opposition is firmly entrenched.

The gradual shelving of classical climate policy is not fun to watch, but for the above reasons (and for others, such as the hugely turbulent love affair climate advocates have had with pricing carbon) nor is it surprising. The science and economics of climate change may provide an analytical basis for action, but they are not the source of an inspiring political narrative and are thus finding their way onto the shelf rather than into the statute book.


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