As cost of living rises, climate change takes a back seat in elections

Kuala Lumpur, Manila, Rio De Janeiro: In the central Philippine beach town of Palo, George Christopher Daga saw torrential rain fall for days in what is expected to be a hot and dry April – just one of the unusual weather patterns he’s had to contend with in recent years.

His home province of Leyte, where Palo is located, has been ground zero for the country’s most destructive weather events since 2013, when Typhoon Haiyan hit the Southeast Asian country, killing 6,300 people and flattening land. buildings.

Another typhoon, Rai, left a trail of destruction in Leyte and neighboring provinces in December, killing more than 300 people and displacing hundreds of thousands.

“The world is going crazy. We don’t understand the weather these days,” Daga, 33, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

But Daga – who lost his job as a utility worker during the COVID-19 pandemic – said climate change was not his main concern as Filipinos head to the polls on May 9 to elect a new president. .

The issue has hardly featured on the campaign trail in the disaster-prone Philippines – just one of many countries with elections this year where global warming has taken a back seat.

As COVID-19 has exacerbated economic and social inequalities, jobs and livelihoods have dominated the electoral agenda among politicians vying for votes, analysts said.

This is the case even in hard-hit countries like the Philippines, which experiences an average of 20 tropical cyclones each year and is one of the countries most vulnerable to climate-related disasters.

ECONOMY FIRST

From heat to drought, the impacts of climate change are becoming more frequent and intense – but efforts to cut emissions and adapt to global warming are lagging behind, the Group warned this month. United Nations intergovernmental experts on climate change.

Despite this, as countries from the Philippines to Lebanon and Brazil prepare for elections, climate change has not figured as a major issue. In other places, such as France, green parties have made no headway in recent votes.

One of a series of Philippine presidential debates this year has focused on climate change for the first time, but otherwise the issue has received little campaign attention.

“For this to be high on the agenda of politicians, it needs to be framed as a livelihoods issue” focusing on loss of income, crops and property, said Jean Encinas Franco, a political scientist at the University of the Philippines.

She said greater efforts needed to be made to establish the “hidden” link between global warming and voter concerns about livelihoods or hunger so that climate change could be seen as a more pressing election issue.

“Ultimately, candidates must tie an issue to its potential to garner votes,” Franco said.

In Lebanon, climate change and renewable energy did not become key issues until the May 15 legislative elections, even though the country has suffered severe power cuts since then, with the two main parties vying for the national elections on May 21 May said they would continue to support coal exports, although a growing majority of Australians support a ban on new coal mines and want a cut in exports.

‘LOW ON THE LIST’

Politicians who have shown how they can help people cope with the economic fallout from COVID-19 and rising inflation have proven popular in recent elections, noted climate policy expert Danny Marks.

“While I think many voters around the world care about climate change and the threats it poses, it is currently low on their list of priorities,” said Marks, assistant professor of environmental policy at the Dublin City University.

He cited the example of the French Greens party which had a poor performance in this month’s presidential election, with its candidate Yannick Jadot eliminated in the first round of voting.

In contrast, far-right candidate Marine Le Pen, who turned away from her party’s anti-immigration policies to focus her campaign on the rising cost of living, came second, behind President Emmanuel Macron. .

Marks urged politicians concerned about climate change to emphasize the immediate benefits of going green, such as jobs in renewable energy and improvements in public health.

In the Philippines, many people look to personalities and connections to candidates, rather than issues, to vote, political analysts say.

Like most people in his province, Daga supports Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. – the late dictator’s son and a frontrunner in the presidential race – because his mother Imelda is from Leyte.

“I will vote for Bongbong because he helped us during the (Haiyan) typhoon,” Daga said, dismissing concerns that Marcos lacks clear plans on how to tackle climate change.

‘REALLY SCARY’

In Brazil, where President Jair Bolsonaro is set to face former leader Lula da Silva in October’s elections, climate change and the environment are not top concerns for the electorate, opinion polls suggest.

One, by consultancy Quaest this month, showed the economy was the biggest issue for almost half of the nearly 2,000 people polled, as the South American giant grapples with the inflation, unemployment and low growth.

Other interviewees cited health care and corruption as major concerns. Climate change didn’t make the list.

“The economy and corruption – unfortunately, these will be the main issues,” said Christiane Romeo, professor of political science at IBMec University in Rio de Janeiro.

“I wouldn’t bet on the environment as a topic that would attract votes,” Romeo added.

South Korean student Dayeon Lee said she hopes politicians in her country – and elsewhere – will listen to concerns about climate change.

South Koreans elected opposition candidate Yoon Suk-yeol as the country’s new president in March, in an election dominated by debates over rising property prices and youth unemployment.

“The climate crisis did not attract attention during the March elections. It’s a shame,” said Lee, 19, who voted for the first time in the polls, from his home in the southeastern city of Daegu.

“The crisis is getting worse, but it seems nobody is paying attention. It’s really scary.

Teresa H. Sadler