With the pace at which Climate change politics began to gain traction in the late 20th century as scientists and activists sounded the alarm about the dangers of global warming, it is just but evident that a great deal of progress would have been made by now on climate change policy worldwide. But that seems not the case because progress on climate change policy is intermittently stalled – even after international agreements like the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement were signed with the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and slowing the pace of climate change.
Differences in ideologies and political polarization within nation-states, between nations states, and in global forums have made it difficult to pass meaningful legislation. Many countries have withdrawn and rejoined climate change international agreements in different periods for different reasons since the late 20th century. As a result, the future of climate change politics is uncertain, and the consequences of inaction could be catastrophic. The question is, what really is the gridlock in climate change politics?
Political polarization is one of the reasons progress on climate change policy is significantly hindered. In recent years, the issue of climate change has become heavily politicized, with many politicians and political parties taking entrenched positions on the matter. This has made building consensus and developing effective policies to address the problem difficult.
As Elaine Kamarck, the founding Director of the Center for Effective Public Management, Senior Fellow of Governance Studies at Brookings pointed out in her article written in 2019 “the challenging politics of climate change”, in 1997, nearly equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans said that the effects of global warming have already begun. Ten years later, the gap was 34% to 76% of Democrats said the impact had already begun, and only 42% of Republicans agreed.
This is not to say that there isn’t any progress – some countries have reached a milestone in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. But the global consensus on greenhouse gas emissions is far from reconcilable. Even with the overwhelming evidence of climate change coming from the scientific community, there are still unreconcilable differences between the scientific community, the public at large, and some parts of the political class. As years and decades pass by, people, societies, and politicians are becoming more resistant and undecisive to global comprehensive actions to mitigate the effects of climate change. This might be for different reasons.
It is understandable that the reason why there is yet to be a global consensus on how to tackle climate change politics is because of its complexity. And climate change politics has had a tumultuous history, with initial progress giving way to political polarization. However, the consequences of inaction on this issue are dire, and it is imperative that action is taken now to address this urgent problem.
The impact of climate change will not be limited to environmental damage alone. It will also have significant economic and social consequences. Displacement of people due to rising sea levels, loss of agricultural productivity, and increased healthcare costs due to air pollution are some of the ways in which climate change will affect daily lives. The cost of inaction will far outweigh the cost of taking action now.