Right-wing shift may slow, not reverse climate action

FILE PHOTO: Protesters carry signs during the Peoples Climate March at the White House in Washington

By Simon Jessop, Susanna Twidale and Virginia Furness

LONDON (Reuters) - A political tilt to the right in Europe and a potential Trump presidency in the U.S. will not derail climate efforts as businesses are increasingly locked into green strategies, delegates at London Climate Action Week heard.

A big election year, globally, has seen right-wing and populist parties return to power or gain ground in the European Union, India, Indonesia and Argentina, and potentially France, which heads to the polls at the weekend. The shift is offset to an extent by left-wing gains in Mexico and, as is expected, in the UK next week.

The greatest shake-up looms with the November election in the United States, where national polls have showed a tied race, but with President Joe Biden trailing Republican candidate Donald Trump in most of the battleground states that traditionally decide presidential elections.

Trump took the world's biggest economy out of a deal to fight global warming when he was previously in office.

However, for the 45,000 delegates in London this week to attend the capital's biggest annual climate event, the message was clear: even in the absence of U.S. government support, the real economy would continue to move towards decarbonisation.

"Could a shift in presidency stop the current progress that is being made? The answer is no. Could it harass it and make it move slower than it is at this point in time, the answer is yes," former U.S. climate special envoy John Kerry told Reuters.

"The bottom line remains that CEOs all around the planet understand that avoiding climate responsibility is not a good business plan... their products, the cost of their supply chains, everything will be impacted."

Nearly 6,000 of the world's biggest companies told non-profit disclosure platform CDP that they had a plan aligned with capping global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 F) above the pre-industrial average, the level that scientists say can prevent the most devastating consequences.


A backlash against environmental, social and governance investing in the United States and elsewhere as inflation and a cost-of-living crisis has refocused attention on shorter-term profits has led some companies to shift their strategy away from renewable energy.

EU climate policy ambitions were also watered down even before this month's elections to the European Parliament, and companies who are pressing ahead with climate goals are increasingly reluctant to make them public for fear of drawing criticism.

Former Italian prime minister Mario Draghi said politicians needed to engage with electorates who have may become disillusioned.

"It's as important as making progress," he told delegates at the London conference.

Trump has won support in some parts of the United States for comments dismissing the risks of climate change, but billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates was cautiously optimistic Trump, if re-elected, would not unravel President Joe Biden's flagship climate policy the Inflation Reduction Act.

Gates told journalists he believed "a lot of the IRA stuff would stay intact" because of the need for consensus in Congress to repeal the tax credits and because Republican states had benefited.

Kerry's successor, John Podesta, told delegates the tax breaks that have spurred U.S. green businesses were structured to give companies ten years of certainty, helping to ensure lasting change.

Such a regulatory structure is of the kind businesses seeking to bring in greener technologies tend to say is vital to overcoming the issues that can initially thwart innovation.

More broadly, companies across the United States and other developed markets have increased green energy output, including from solar and wind, as the cost of both has fallen, helping to unseat climate-damaging fossil fuels.

While politics would affect the pace of change, "we're not going to see a reversal", said Selwin Hart, climate adviser to the U.N. Secretary-General. "Who would invest in coal in the advanced economies? It's no longer cost-competitive."

(Additional reporting by Gloria Dickie and Valerie Volcovici; editing by Barbara Lewis)