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Fin McCarron: Why more centre-right political parties want to lead on climate

Fin McCarron (International Programme Manager at CEN)

From the record-breaking summer temperatures in the UK to the devastating floods in Pakistan, the effects of climate change have become impossible to ignore. Across the world, environmental concerns increasingly influence people's decisions at the ballot box as voters demand more ambitious climate action.

In May, Australia's general election became the most obvious example yet of a so-called climate election. The centre-right Liberal-National coalition's perceived unwillingness to act on climate change resulted in voters opting to vote for pro-environmental independents in many previously rock-solid seats - the so-called 'teal independents'.

In response, the Conservative Environment Network's (CEN) international programme has stepped up its work helping centre-right parties across the world, encouraging more to embrace this new electoral reality, building their confidence to speak on environmental issues and increasing their ambition to end their country's contribution to climate change.

Many on the centre-right want to act with ambition on climate change but are worried about the effects of doing so on economic growth and energy security. Part of CEN's role is to prove that there are market-based solutions to climate change and that the energy transition does not undermine energy security. That's why we launched our case studies programme this year to highlight successful examples of climate policies implemented by centre-right governments.

Of course, the war in Ukraine has served as a sobering backdrop to much of the past year. At Conservative Party Conference, we brought legislators from Ukraine, Iceland and the UK to discuss the issue at a public panel event. We also held events on clean trade and women in climate change and a reception celebrating the UK's environmental leadership on the world stage.

In October, we organised a European Climate and Security summit convening legislators from seven different countries in Europe to look at how ending our reliance on fossil fuels throughout Europe can help us achieve our climate goals and disarm Putin's Russia. This featured keynote speeches from Security Minister, CEN alumnus Tom Tugendhat, and the Deputy Prime Minister of Moldova Nicu Popescu.

We also expanded our outreach work to centre-right parties this year. CEN Director Sam Hall spoke at the launch of the Coalition Climate Network in Australia, a group for Liberal politicians who support greater climate action, similar to the CEN parliamentary caucus. We also organised a delegation to Canada, with CEN MPs Henry Smith and Rebecca Pow meeting Canadian Conservatives in Alberta and Ottawa to discuss environmental challenges, our ambitions for the UN's climate summit COP27 in Egypt, and the UN's biodiversity conference COP15 in Montreal.

Our visit to Canada was against a backdrop of leadership elections in the Canadian Conservative Party's federal and provincial conservative parties. Climate priorities clashing against rising inflation and cost of living issues was a prominent theme in both leadership contests, as it was in the UK. The CEN delegation shared their experiences on how greater climate ambition had not stopped economic growth in the UK but contributed to it, winning our country new skilled jobs and new clean industries.

CEN had another opportunity to meet politicians from Australia and Canada at COP27, where we co-hosted the Global Conservative Climate Summit with legislators from eight different countries. There we discussed the importance of global leadership on climate change and the political and philosophical reasons for conservative environmentalism. This is helping to build a truly global conservative environmentalist movement.

CEN's international team has also worked with large pre-existing networks of international centre-right parties to push climate further up the agenda. Our International Director, John Flesher, went to the Union De Partidos Latinamericano’s ( UPLA) 30th anniversary conference in Montevideo and the International Democrat Union Forum in Washington DC, to encourage prioritisation of climate issues amongst political parties worldwide.

Climate change has become impossible for politicians to ignore, and the centre-right is playing a positive, growing and influential role in the debate. As demand grows for ambitious, sensible, market-based environmental solutions, CEN is here to help conservatives around the world speak and act with confidence and purpose.


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