COP24: If populists want a fight, let’s give them one


December 7, 2018

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Nice. It isn’t though, is it? It’s one of those horrible vague words. As far back as I can recall, I was taught to find more interesting alternatives. Who wants to be just nice?

And yet I’d argue that this is how the wind industry is widely perceived. There are of course hardcore wind-haters who see this as a sector filled with sociopaths who care nothing of killing birds, destroying landscapes, sucking up subsidies, and spreading illnesses that only show in people who hate wind farms. But to most, wind is… nice. It’s an industry for people who want to save the world with white spinny things. Aaahhh!

But with COP24 in Katowice in Poland from this week through to the 14th December, the time for wind being comfortable being ‘nice’ may be reaching an end. The forces of populism are amassing against the scientific consensus about humans’ impact on climate change, which means it looks like time to get political. It’s the wind industry’s time to fight.

If you’re wondering what’s prompted this rabble-rousing spirit, let’s go back three years.

In December 2015, political leaders gathered for the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris to discuss a global agreement to curb carbon emissions. It was a deal that France’s then-president François Hollande said would take a “miracle”.

We know the rest. A deal was agreed by 196 countries to take actions to keep a rise in temperatures well below two degrees Celsius. Yes, the deal was vague, but at least it was done – and a tangible sign that nations were committed to tackling global climate change, or would, at very least, begrudgingly go along with it. Surely it would lead to a major rollout of renewables, with the benefits that means for wind?

But that was a different world. We have seen plenty of political and economic events in the last 36 months that have shaken the world order and put the populists on the front foot. Brexit, the rise of President Trump, the political backlash against German chancellor Angela Merkel, and the election of the far-right Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil.

It is a trend that will put a great deal of focus on what happens in Katowice this month.

This has already been billed as the event where the political leaders who still believe in globalisation will fight to save the Paris deal from those who don’t. This is a stark reminder that the debate about climate change hasn’t yet been won. Far from it.

We even wrote about the global warming debate and the rise of ‘fake news’ in our Finance 2017 report at the start of last year, in the wake of the election of the chief Paris-objector Donald Trump as US president. At the time it felt we were going out on a limb in connecting the two trends, but now it feels like it’s coming to pass.

Populist right-leaning parties are now wrapping their hostility to action to fight climate change with broader fights against elitism and globalism. Logically, there’s no reason why a politician that believes in putting their country first would sign up to global action of the kind represented by the Paris climate change deal.

We could just dismiss it. Surely the climate-change-denying cranks will just be swept away by arguments based on science and logic? Absolutely not. We’ve seen in the battles over Brexit and Trump that winning the argument on climate change won’t be enough when of populists can succeed by sowing doubt and spurning elites.

So what does this mean for wind? First, everyone in the wind sector should keep a close eye on what comes out of COP24. Economics is increasingly driving the move to renewables, but political support is still vital when it comes to setting targets and removing roadblocks. Paris isn’t everything, but it’s better to have it. Its fate is an indicator of what the future holds.

Second, the ‘nice’ people of the wind sector can’t sit back and assume that progress will always be made to align politicians on the issue to tackling climate change. The forces of populism are lining up against those of us who want to protect the future of this planet with renewables, and it will force more of us to become politicised and fight for our future.

And third, it is worth reminding ourselves that, even if the deal survives, it is only voluntary. It isn’t certain that every country will deliver on their promises, and it is up to those in the wind industry to keep innovating, driving down costs, and drawing on the support of people – especially the public – who want to see more renewables.

The arguments around Katowice will give us a good flavour of the fights yet to come. In the face of such opposition, who could fail to be inspired? Nice simply won’t cut it.

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