Environmental issues, in recent years, have been at the forefront of the political agenda. Issues such as climate change, plastic waste and air pollution among others have been prominent features of policy making and political debate.
In a 2014 survey by Eurobarometer, they found that more than 95% of Europeans thought that protecting the environment was important. The study also found that more than half of those surveyed worry about air and water pollution, while waste and the depletion of natural resources were additionally top-ranking concerns.
This awareness and support for the environment have been growing for many years, becoming an ever more mainstream issue. However, environmentalism came into existence in the early 1800s. The movement became increasingly prominent during the 1970s, a time when the first Earth Day and the UN’s first environmental conference were held.
Blue Planet II had a huge impact, with around 78% of those that watched the program saying they try and buy fewer single-use plastics. The programme exposed the public to the harsh realities of what their litter can potentially do to marine life.
Since the show aired, the UK government have signed up to the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment, whilst also having brought together the Commonwealth Clean Oceans Alliance and Global Plastics Action Partnership. The targets include eliminating unnecessary plastic packaging, transitioning to a reusable packaging model and ensuring plastic packaging is 100% reused, recycled or composted by 2025. The government has also been consulting on introducing a deposit-return scheme and placing a ban on the sale of straws, plastic-stemmed cotton buds and stirrers.
The rise of interest has led to widespread campaigning for governments to act in regards to these environmental issues, ultimately forcing it into the political sphere. The most notable recent example is the school climate strikes taking place across the globe, that were started by Greta Thunberg.
Recent IPCC reports detailing the extent of action needed over the coming years to limit temperature rises to between 1.5 and 2C, show the importance of governments acting to mitigate the potential effects of climate change. Thus, the environment is a vital component of modern-day politics, being an area, which requires urgent action.
This action often requires national and international cooperation between governments, with agreements needing to be reached, in order to come to a decision on the best way to pursue environmental issues. These decisions must consider the world globally, as it is hard to place borders on these environmental problems; for instance, emissions can be produced in one area but will affect the rest of the world. Additionally, to achieve positive outcomes all countries must act in working towards changes to improve these problems, otherwise, it is hard for these issues to be resolved as they are often large in scale.
Significant changes to these issues often require government interventions, examples such as the 5p bag charge have decreased the use of disposable bags by 86% while also drawing peoples attention to the issue of plastic waste.
The environment does, however, present challenges in the political domain as there are many vested interests in oil companies, differences in development levels on a global scale and generally, economic growth is viewed as being superior to the environment.