As the cost of living rises, climate change comes in the back seat in elections

Tacloban, Leyte, after Typhoon Haiyan hit in 2013. – Eoghan Rice / Trócaire / Caritas / Wikimedia Commons

KUALA LUMPUR / MANILA / RIO DE JANEIRO – In the coastal city of Palo in the central Philippines, George Christopher Daga has seen torrential rain pour for days during what is supposed to be a hot and dry April – just one of the unusual weather patterns he has faced in recent years.

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

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

“The world is going crazy. We do not understand the weather these days,” Mr. Daga, 33, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

But Mr Daga – who lost his job as a supply worker during the 2019 coronavirus disease pandemic (COVID-19) – said climate change is not his main concern as the Philippines goes to the polls on May 9 to elect a new president.

The issue has hardly been on the campaign track in the disaster-stricken Philippines – just one of several countries with elections this year where global warming has taken a back seat.

Since COVID-19 has worsened economic and social inequalitiesjobs and livelihoods have dominated the election agenda among politicians fighting for the votes, analysts said.

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

ECONOMY FIRST

From heat to drought, the effects of climate change are becoming more frequent and intense – but efforts to reduce emissions and adapt to global warming are lagging behind, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned this month.

Despite this, as countries from the Philippines to Lebanon and Brazil prepare for elections, climate change has not been a major issue. Elsewhere, such as France, green parties have not made progress in recent polls.

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

“For it to be high on the agenda of politicians, it must be framed as a livelihood issue,” focusing on the 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 draw the “hidden” link between global warming and voters’ concerns about livelihoods or hunger, so that climate change could be seen as a more pressing election issue.

“Ultimately, the candidates have to relate a problem to its potential to get votes,” Ms. Franco.

In Lebanon, climate change and renewable energy have not risen as key issues ahead of the country’s parliamentary elections on 15 May, although the nation has suffered severe power outages since mid-2021.

In Australia, the two largest parties taking part in the national elections on 21 May have said they will continue to support coal exports despite a growing majority of Australians support a ban on new coal mines and wants to cut exports.

‘LOW ON LIST’

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

“While I think many voters across the globe are concerned about climate change and the threats they pose, they are currently low on the list of their priorities,” he said. Marks, an Assistant Professor of Environmental Policy at Dublin City University.

He cited the example of France’s Green Party, which had a poor result in this month’s presidential election, in which its candidate Yannick Jadot was eliminated in the first round of voting.

In contrast, far-right candidate Marine Le Pen, based on her party’s anti-immigration policy to focus her campaign on rising living costs, came in second after President Emmanuel Macron.

Mr. Mark urged politicians concerned about climate change to highlight the immediate benefits of a green shift, such as jobs in renewable energy and improvements in public health.

In the Philippines, many people look at personalities and ties to candidates, rather than the questions, when casting their ballots, political analysts say.

Like most people in his province, Mr. Daga Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. supports. – son of the late dictator and a frontrunner in the presidential election – because his mother Imelda is a resident of Leyte.

“I would vote for Bongbong because he had helped us under the typhoon (Haiyan),” Mr Daga said, drawing on concerns that Marcos lacks clear plans on how to tackle climate change.

‘REALLY CUTE’

In Brazil, where President Jair Bolsonaro is expected to face former leader Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in the October election, climate change and the environment are no major concerns for voters, opinion polls suggest.

One, by consulting firm Quaest this month, showed that the economy was the biggest problem for nearly half of about 2,000 respondents, as the South American giant struggles with inflation, unemployment and low growth.

Others questioned cited health care and corruption as key concerns. Climate change was not on the list.

“Economy and corruption – unfortunately, they will be the main issues,” said Christiane Romeo, professor of political science at Ibmec University in Rio de Janeiro.

“I would not bet on the environment as an issue that can bring votes,” Ms. added. Romeo.

South Korean student Dayeon Lee said she hoped politicians in her country – and elsewhere – would 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 house prices and youth unemployment.

“The climate crisis had not received much attention in 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 more serious, but it seems no one is paying attention. This is really scary.” – Beh Lih Yi, Manuel Mogato and Fabio Teixeira / Thomson Reuters Foundation

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