In her address to the UN climate action summit in New York the 16-year-old activist Greta Thunberg said, ‘the politics and solutions needed are still nowhere in sight.’ In her fiery and passionate speech, the climate activist vehemently attacked the politicians in power for failing the young generation on this critical issue. She recognises the important political dimension to her cause. It is no coincidence that the climate strikes that took place all around the world were staged in front of corridors of power. Green politics has been around for decades, but never before has it been the focus of so much attention in the political arena. Warnings from scientists and vocal demonstrations from organisations like extinction rebellion have certainly brought attention the issue, but what impact has it all had in political spheres? Even here in Ireland there has been suggestions of a ‘green wave, but is it enough? And, is it all too little too late?
Media outlets were quick to jump on the gains of the Green Party in the European and local elections in May. We were told a seismic shift had taken place in Irish politics and what we had witnessed was a ‘green wave.’ It is true the elections were a great success for the party. It increased it seat total on local councils from 12 in 2014 to 49, an increase of 37. Its three European parliament candidates received a combined 190,814 first preference votes, representing 11.4% of all votes cast and two of its candidates were elected after failing to have a single candidate elected last time around. The result was undeniably a success, but there are concerns. The party’s voters are predominantly urban based. Over 51% of its elected councillors sit on one of the four Dublin councils and less than 25% of its councillors sit on councils outside Leinster. In the European election its candidate for the Dublin constituency was by far the party’s best performer receiving an impressive 17.5% of all first preference votes and topping the poll in the capital. Also, the party has two deputies in the Dáil Eamon Ryan and Catherine Martin, both of whom represent Dublin constituencies.
While the party has main remarkable gains there is still a problem attracting rural voters. Turning this around is a challenge when one of the party’s policies include ‘encouraging the Irish agriculture sector to diversify by moving away from a dependence on animal products.’ In order to advance its policies which climate scientists say are necessary to stop catastrophic and irreversible damage to our planet, the green party will need to expand its voter base wider and quickly if it hopes to have a meaningful influence on Irish climate policy making in years to come.
While Irish government policies can have an impact, the sheer scale of the climate crisis means it is not down to any one country but is a collective issue for humanity. Green parties throughout the world face some of the same struggles as the Irish party. In Germany the green party has seen its support increase rapidly. A poll in June of this year put it at 26%, making it the most popular party among German voters. While this number has slipped a little since the party is sure to make gains of its 67 members of the German parliament in the next election and will certainly be a huge force in German politics. There are also green parties throughout Europe with a role in governments and are influencing policy. The Green Union in Lithuania is the ruling party while green parties make up junior coalition partners in Finland, Luxembourg and Sweden. Outside Europe the idea of specific green parties is not so common. However, the stark climate warnings and growing activist base around the world has seen more traditional party’s adopting more progressive climate policy plans.
The Green New Deal was a piece of legislation brought forward by some progressive democrats in the US. Inspired by Franklin D Roosevelt’s new deal package in response to the great depression in 1929, the bill gained a lot of attention as it aimed to address the climate crisis with renewable energy and resource efficiency whilst also addressing economic inequality through social/economic reforms and public work projects. While the bill ultimately failed it marked a shift in traditional parties aiming to address the climate crisis. Similar ideas have been proposed in the UK, Australia and Canada. This shows that parties can also build policies that combat climate change into their platform with other policies. Progress on this has been slow, however. Here in Ireland government policy has responded to some extent. The government has announced some measures like aiming for 1 million electric vehicles on Irish roads by 2030 and introducing a new retrofitting delivery model. Nevertheless, the green party whilst welcoming the plan said it ‘lacks the significant system change required to truly tackle the climate crisis.’
The term may have been overused at the time but a ‘green wave’ certainly occurred in Ireland and beyond. However, the political systems throughout the world have not sufficiently responded to truly rectify the problem. Perhaps a ‘green tsunami’ is required. Policies that climate scientists urge politicians to take cannot be solely left to green parties. It must be adopted by governments and parties across the political spectrum and also the world. Only then can politicians truly say to be listening and responding to the millions of voices of young people around the world at climate protests.
Conor Paterson – Politics Editor