Has Climate Change ‘Hijacked’ the Political Agenda?

A fascinating BBC Radio Four programme (broadcast 27 August) and an accompanying article on the BBC website explore whether climate change has ‘hijacked’ the space available for consideration of environmental policy in politics, and whether environmental charities and NGOs are somewhat to blame. Richard Black, the BBC Environment Correspondent, explores why political leaders are neglecting the ‘bigger picture’ in favour of a focus on climate change.

The Global Environmental Outlook (Geo-4) report published in 2007, the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment and other studies into the state of the natural environment worldwide reveal an environment suffering from multiple stressors; from habitat and biodiversity loss, air and water pollution, to deforestation and environmental degradation, and yet politicians maintain a focus on climate change. Mike Hulme, former Director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, suggests that climate change is a convenient political issue, one on which it is possible for politicians to defer action and yet retain credibility: “It’s very easy to pass responsibility for failure somewhere else… and in the process of doing that, one is able to keep one’s own credibility and record, with the appearance of being much more progressive and constructive.” It’s easy for countries to blame one another, and to continue to pass on blame while little progress is made.

Amongst those interviewed for the programme there is a perception that it’s extremely difficult to get other environmental issues, such as biodiversity loss, onto the agenda. Therefore NGOs focus their lobbying activities on those areas with political traction, such as climate change, reinforcing the cycle. Pavan Sukhdev, leader of the Economics of Ecosystem Services and Biodiversity (TEEB) review, says: “Climate change is already occupying mind space and heart space, and for biodiversity to occupy the same space is going to be a challenge.”

The BES and Institute for Ecology and Environmental Management are organising a reception in parliament on 27 October, aiming to raise the profile of biodiversity to policy-makers. For more information see the BES website.

See the original article and listen to the broadcast