Article | How Do Right-Wing Populist Parties Influence Climate and Renewable Energy Policies? Evidence from OECD Countries


There is increasing evidence that right-wing populist parties (RWPPs) and their supporters are hostile to climate and low-carbon energy policies. In this article, we provide a quantitative analysis of the effects of RWPP representation in the legislature and executive on climate and renewable energy policy for a number of countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development over the period 2007–2018. After controlling for other political, economic, and environmental factors, we find evidence for a significant and large negative effect of RWPPs in power on climate policy. Importantly, we also show that these negative effects vary with the proportionality of the electoral system and European Union membership. Both of these factors significantly moderate the negative influence of RWPPs. In countries with majoritarian electoral systems, the effects of RWPPs on climate policy work through both indirect legislative and direct executive routes. In contrast to climate policy, there is no overall significant relationship with renewable policy.

Announcing the repeal of his predecessor’s Clean Power Plan at a rally in September 2017, President Trump declared, “Did you see what I did to that? Boom, gone!”1 This move exemplified what many climate policy advocates feared: a populist politician and declared climate skeptic reversing policies brought in under a previous administration.

But how widespread is such action? Does the rise of authoritarian nationalist populists (sometimes labeled “right-wing” populists) and their entry into government always have a negative effect on climate and low-carbon energy policies? If there are differences in how far populists getting into power affects such policies, what factors can explain the variation? These questions matter not just because of the direct effects on domestic outcomes but also because of their influence on the policies and emissions of other countries via the erosion of international cooperation (Sælen et al. 2020).

Interest in the links between populism and climate change has emerged in the last few years (for a recent review, see Forchtner 2019). Within this literature are a number of recent studies looking specifically at how right-wing populist parties (RWPPs) might actually affect climate and sustainable energy policies and outcomes once elected to legislatures and governments (Böhmelt 2021; Ćetković and Hagemann 2020; Huber et al. 2021; Jahn 2021). These studies show some influence of RWPPs, but with variation across countries and policy areas.

This article adds to the literature by taking a quantitative approach to measuring policy effects and widening the focus beyond European countries, on which much of the literature so far has focused. We assess the impact of RWPPs on climate and renewable energy policy in thirty-one OECD countries over the period from 2007 to 2018, combining data on the quality of policies with established data sets on right-wing populism and on parliaments and governments. This scope means we cover a group of postindustrial countries with a shared social and political context for the emergence of authoritarian populism, while at the same time going beyond the European focus of existing studies, allowing us to assess the role of electoral systems and European Union (EU) membership. We capture both the direct effects of RWPPs as part of governing cabinets and leadership and indirect effects through their representation in legislatures on other parties in government. Our key findings, which are robust to a set of other political, economic and environmental controls, are, first, that RWPPs do have a significant negative impact on climate policy, but not on renewable energy policy; second, that the impact of RWPPs on climate policy is mitigated by proportional representation (PR) and by membership of the EU; and third, that climate policy effects of RWPPs in majoritarian countries work via both executive and legislative channels.

Our results are broadly in line with, and provide independent verification of, findings in the wider literature. The muted effects of right-wing populism on climate policy in countries with PR and coalition government is consonant with Ćetković and Hagemann (2020), and the stronger effects on climate policy than on renewables policy is similar to Huber et al. (2021). Quantitative studies of the effects of populism have so far looked at outcomes rather than policies, and our research helps clarify intermediating mechanisms. Our results suggest that climate policy change can explain at least some of the links found between right-wing populism and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions (Jahn 2021) and between populist leadership and per capita carbon dioxide emissions (Böhmelt 2021).

Our study has some limits. Unlike some recent studies (e.g., Huber et al. 2021), we do not include consideration of left-wing populist parties. We also do not attempt to differentiate between different types of RWPPs (Zulianello 2020), mainly because of the nature of the data set on party characteristics on which we draw.

In section 2, we review the existing literature on right-wing populism and climate and renewable energy policy. Section 3 describes our data and methodological approach. In section 4, we present the findings of the analysis. Section 5 concludes with a discussion of the wider implications of the analysis.

The CCPI data is requested and used for research and science purposes. The CCPI was used as a source in this paper.

Lockwood, Ben; Lockwood, Matthew (2022): How Do Right-Wing Populist Parties Influence Climate and Renewable Energy Policies? Evidence from OECD Countries. In: Global Environmental Politics