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What politics must address on environmental matter

Environmental problems are directly related to a system of life based on constant growth. Although academia has been warning for decades that we have already reached the limits of resource use on the planet, increased consumption continues to be the measure of success.

The fragility of our environment only makes headlines when a catastrophe or supply disruption occurs. As soon as “normality” is restored, we forget the crisis and its potential lessons. Yet, the shocks will not stop.

Politics and environmental conflicts

We must rethink our societies’ development models and incorporate environmental issues into the political agenda. There is documented evidence that ecosystems that are indispensable for human life are being affected, and more frequent and more intense extreme weather events are predicted. Long droughts will be followed by floods, as can be seen, for example, in regions of Italy. Conflicts over access to scarce water will become more frequent, as is the case in Mexico. The exploitation of resources such as lithium will require enormous amounts of energy and water. Politics should not run after the problems. conflicts will arise that cannot be solved with patches. It is necessary to anticipate the crises to come.

Political parties must call the problems by their name and work on sustainable strategies to deal with them. There will be water crises, resources considered infinite will be exhausted and new pandemics will be possible. Without a timely response from the political institutions, if democratic parties are not able to lead, authoritarian and populist proposals will gain support.

Keys for an environmental policy

Some keys for political parties and their approach to responsible environmental management:

  • Risk management

Climate change manifests itself in extreme weather events. This should not come as a surprise. It is not viable to propose policies based on resource availability and climate stability that will not exist in the future. Political parties must incorporate risk and scarcity scenarios as part of their electoral offer. Savings in water and energy use must be part of their government plans. In order to work on these issues in a solid way, it is recommended to include references on the subject.

  • Environmental costs

The need to internalize the environmental costs of economic undertakings is nothing new, half a century after the Stockholm Conference, no political party can ignore the principles of sustainable development. The confrontation between the economy and the environment is sterile, there is no sense in an undertaking that improves the GDP at the cost of damage to the ecosystem on which it is carried out. The challenge for political parties is to reconcile the creation of activity and employment with the preservation of the ecosystem services on which we depend. For example, the preservation of wetlands and riparian forests is not an idealistic activity but is part of strategic planning for water resource management.

  • Energy transition

Energy from fossil fuels is not viable in the medium term. The Paris Agreement commits states to a dramatic reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. This implies a sustained effort to change infrastructure and consumption habits. Vehicles running on these fossil fuels will no longer be possible in the not-too-distant future, deepening and accelerating the energy transition is an unavoidable part of the political agenda.

  • Citizenship

Political parties must avoid easy promises based on false assumptions. The world will be increasingly complex and disruptive, climate change will lead to the emergence of diseases that will affect crops and people. The increased occurrence of extreme events will put costly infrastructure to the test, for example, due to rising sea levels. These situations require a mature exchange with citizens, not just with voters and consumers. Conscientious citizens are required in the use of resources, particularly water and energy. Parties should encourage this attitude and enable constructive debate between short-term interests and responsibility towards future generations.

  • Dialogue with science

In order to implement sustainable policies, it is necessary to take into account knowledge about the functioning of ecosystems. It is neither possible nor expected that every politician is a specialist in environmental and energy issues. For this reason, dialogue with academia should be part of the routine of party commissions dedicated to the subject. Dialogue with science, in order to approach evidence-based policy, should be part of the training of young political leaders. This also applies to legislative activity, which should always include the participation of specialists.

Political parties are indispensable for democracy. The advance of populism and charismatic leadership is not an option. Political parties have the legitimacy of the vote and are accountable to the electorate for their performance.

However, parties do not only owe their voters. As managers of public affairs, they are also responsible for the welfare of future generations. It is not ethically acceptable to implement policies at the expense of those who will come after. Therefore, the challenge is great, there is no time to lose.

*This text was originally published in Diálogo Político.

Translated from Spanish by Micaela Machado Rodrigues


Project Coordinator of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, Montevideo office. Master degrre in Environmental Sciences from the Universidad de la República de Uruguay. Graduated from Fachhochschule für Druck (Stuttgart, Germany).


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