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Populist Discourses on Climate in Europe: Undermining the EU’s Energy Transition?

European Politics
European Union
Green Politics
Populism
Climate Change
Energy
Energy Policy
Marco Siddi
University of Edinburgh
Marco Siddi
University of Edinburgh
Antto Vihma
University of Eastern Finland

Abstract

In recent years, populist parties have risen to prominence in the political systems of numerous European states. While these parties have traditionally focused their rhetoric on topics such as migration or the European Union, for many of them climate policy has now become a significant political issue. The increasing centrality of climate change in European public debates has motivated far right populists in countries such as Germany, Sweden and Italy to engage with the topic. As mainstream political forces have framed climate change as an urgent challenge, and devised complex policy and governance frameworks to address it, far-right populists questioned the need to prioritise such frameworks and, in some cases, even scientific evidence on climate change. However, populist discourses on climate policy take different forms and articulations depending on the national context. This paper investigates the different stances and nuances of European far-right populist parties on climate policy through an analysis of party manifestoes and media discourses in selected national case studies (Germany, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Poland and Italy). The article constructs Weberian ideal types of populist climate change positions, which can be taken as ‘reference models’ that help to identify and describe the differences in policy positions. Furthermore, the paper argues that populists have had little practical impact on EU policies concerning the energy transition so far. However, this may change in the future if they are able to mainstream discourses questioning scientific evidence or the urgency of climate change, and thus manage to shift the political and media debates in ways that deprioritise climate policy.