The research conducted on 61 far-right organisations in Europe shows that climate change denialism is no longer a dominant position. Moreover, the increasing engagement of the far right with environmental issues is also evident through the number of their ecological manifestos and programmes. This indicates the need for a more nuanced environmental communication.
How many times have you heard claims like: “Climate change is a pretext to take away our national sovereignty”, ”Climate change is a hoax invented by the evil elites with an aim to reach out to pockets of the poor”, or “Climate change is invented by the green alarmists who want to destroy the nation’s economy”? These and similar arguments form the crux of the far-right appeal against solutions to climate change, as witnessed in a range of studies dealing with the issue (1, 2). This seems to go hand-in-hand with the scepticism far-right ideology has towards science, which has also been particularly visible amid the ongoing pandemic.
However, most analyses of the relationship between the far right and climate change reveal a surprising myopia with respect to the inconsistencies surrounding both the cases of acceptance and scepticism. This is particularly important with the increasing evidence of the human-based, anthropogenic contribution to climate change (e.g., through industry, cutting down forests, transportation, food production, etc.), as well as the salience of this topic in the international arena. While only a decade ago climate scepticism was a badge of honour worn by the far right, today it may be seen more as a badge of shame.
To analyse the European far-right’s position on Anthropogenic Climate Change (ACC), we conducted a preliminary analysis of 61 Radical Right (RR) and Extreme Right (ER) groups. Aiming to include (at least) the two most prevalent far-right groups (parties, movements) for each country (one radical and one extreme). We analysed the websites and manifestos for key words such as ‘ACC is real’, as well as the party news and policy positions for any reference with respect to ACC and CO2. We classified RR and ER in line with the existing scholarship, with RR groups embracing democracy to achieve their aims while ER rejecting democracy in favour of violence.
Here is the table of our results, while the key findings are discussed below.
The end of ACC denialism as the hegemonic position?
Our findings show that 34% of RR and ER groups analysed do accept the existence of ACC, while 30% do not, with the remaining 36% not explicitly accepting nor denying. This suggests that ACC denialism is by no means a hegemonic position of the far right, as it once was. However, the relatively high number of the “ambiguous” cases prevents drawing more specific conclusions. This can be explained through previous studies (3), illustrating that the far right does not outright deny ACC, but deploys scepticism around evidence and responses. However while manifestoes and websites might not provide the full picture, they offer a glimpse into broader ideological positions presented by political parties, making them a useful data source for this study.
This embrace of scepticism, rather than outright denialism, may be easily read as a strategy to attract younger voters. According to the Peoples Climate Vote, the world’s biggest ever survey of public opinion on climate change, acceptance by under 18s that ACC is a global emergency is 69% and 65% for 18-35s, compared to just 58% for 60+. To attract younger voters, RR parties in particular may have to replace their ACC denialism in favour of a more nuanced stance.
Prevalence of ecological programs
While the future trends with respect to ACC acceptance may seem unclear, the overwhelming majority (84%) of organisations in our study had some form of an ecological agenda. Of course, this does not presuppose a form of ‘far-right ecologism’ (4) purported by these organisations, though it points to a recognition of the environment as both a relevant and complex policy domain. Yet many far-right organisations did exhibit ‘far-right ecologism’, based on ethnonationalist interpretations of nature and the local/national environment, as exemplified by Italy’s Casa Pound:
“Against the uprooting of man from his territory and from his sky, we propose: The Introduction of very strict laws for those who pollute, deface and poison the natural heritage of the nation. As well as protection and enhancement of the territory through the study and recovery of Italian biodiversity and the promotion of typical local crops.”
While we recorded CasaPound’s stance on climate as ambiguous, it highlights how the far right can still articulate an ‘environmentalist’ narrative more akin to far-right values, (ultra-nationalism and the preservation of culture or race), without explicitly engaging with the ‘globalist’ issue of ACC.
Northern Europe – Home of acceptance?
In terms of European regions, classified by EuroVoc, Northern Europe appears to be the home of ACC acceptance by the far right, with 67% of groups accepting and 17% denying. However one caveat is the presence of the Extreme Right and ACC accepting Nordic Resistance Movement (NRM). The NRM is the most prevalent Extreme Right group in four Nordic countries and was therefore included in our dataset four times, partly driving the very high acceptance rate of ACC in Northern Europe. Yet even when excluding NRM, Northern Europe still has a high acceptance of ACC at 33% with 17% denying.
One explanation is that those most supportive of climate and energy policies (as well as accepting ACC) tend to be from countries with low emissions and a large renewable energy infrastructure, namely the Nordic countries as well as Latvia. Whereas far-right groups in countries with economies built around high emissions and fossil fuels, acceptance of ACC and measures needed to combat it are rejected. Consequently, Latvia’s National Alliance 2018 program embraces policies to tackle ACC; “It is essential to increase Latvia’s energy independence…in order to implement Latvia’s zero-emission model in the best way possible by 2050”.
Western Europe – Home of denialism?
Alternatively, Western Europe seems to be the home of denialism, with 43% of organisations denying ACC. Some of the organisations which denied the existence of ACC included England’s ‘UKIP’ and ‘BNP’, Belgium’s ‘Flemish Interest’, ‘Alternative for Germany’, the Netherlands’s ‘Party for Freedom’ and France’s ‘National Rally’.
Yet why is this the case? One possible explanation is that countries in Western Europe have a much smaller percentage share of their energy generated from renewable sources, meaning far-right groups view the cost of accepting ACC (both financially and politically), and transforming their carbon-intensive economies, as far greater compared to those in Northern Europe. With the far-right often exhibiting extreme nationalism, it is unsurprising that these groups would want to abandon fossil fuels which have proved so pivotal to their economic growth and international standing. This is supported by a recent study (5) stating that many far-right groups who deny climate change do so by framing the decarbonisation of their economies as being linked to economic decline and a loss of national independence.
Therefore many far-right groups, particularly carbon dependent ones in Western Europe, view the economic restructuring needed to tackle ACC as a clear threat to their countries immediate economic prosperity.
While only a preliminary investigation, the findings do highlight some important issues which warrant further examination. Firstly, while the academic consensus is that, overall, the far right denies ACC, as the climate crisis worsens and more people accept the science, how much longer will this remain the hegemonic position? Much as the answers to this question are uncertain, future research needs to focus a lot more on the cases of acceptance, because it shows how the far-right logic may enter policy debates. We also need to focus more on the specific arguments employed in defence of climate policies coming from the far right, as they point to the reality of undesired alliances. In countries with a strong far-right base, the far right has advocated the same types of environmental policies such as greens, although with notably different justifications. These and similar occurrences urge us to rethink our environmental communication (and counter-communication), as climate change and the far right are unlikely to fade away in the years to come.
Louis Dean and Balsa Lubarda
- Lockwood, M., “Right-wing populism and the climate change agenda: exploring the linkages”, Environmental Politics,2018
- Jylhä, K., and Hellmer, K., “Right‐wing populism and climate change denial: the roles of exclusionary and anti‐egalitarian preferences, conservative ideology, and antiestablishment attitudes”, Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy, 2020
- Van Rensburg, W., “Climate Change Scepticism: A Conceptual Re-Evaluation”, SAGE Open,2015
- Lubarda, B., “Beyond Ecofascism? Far-Right Ecologism (FRE) as a Framework for Future Inquiries”, Environmental Values, 2020
- Schaller, S., and Karius, A., “Convenient Truths. Mapping climate agendas of right-wing populist parties in Europe. Berlin”, 2019