Home » Research Shows Fossil Fuel Phase-Out Can Increase Political Popularity

Research Shows Fossil Fuel Phase-Out Can Increase Political Popularity

UCL Study Highlights Electoral Benefits of Fair Climate Policy Implementation

by Adenike Adeodun

A groundbreaking study by University College London researchers has discovered that phasing out fossil fuels doesn’t have to cost political parties their popularity, even in regions dependent on coal mining. Published in the American Political Science Review, the study examines the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) government’s approach to closing coal mines prior to Spain’s 2019 national election.

Under the “Just Transition Agreement,” the PSOE government negotiated the closure of 28 coal mines in Asturias, Teruel, and León by the end of 2019. Crucially, the plan included a €250 million support package for workers and investment in affected municipalities over eight years (2019–2027).

According to a report by Mining.com, the researchers employed statistical methods to compare PSOE’s vote share changes in municipalities affected by the agreement with those in similar, non-coal regions. Surprisingly, they found a higher increase in PSOE’s vote share in the coal mining municipalities, suggesting the agreement positively influenced votes in those communities. Interviews and further statistical tests indicated that union support for the agreement significantly contributed to this electoral boost.

Fergus Green, the paper’s lead author, emphasized the study’s significance for crafting climate policy. “Our findings can guide policymakers concerned about the political risks of climate policies affecting specific industries and communities,” he stated in a media release. According to Green, this research underlines the importance of a comprehensive policy approach to the net-zero transition, addressing not just greenhouse gas emissions but also broader industrial, regional, social, and labour market policies.

The study also highlighted the importance of the process. In Spain, constructive dialogue between the government, unions, and businesses led to a mutually agreeable solution. Unions played a key role in mediating the agreement and rallying support for PSOE in the coal-mining communities.

However, the researchers acknowledged that the small size and weak economic outlook of the Spanish coal industry facilitated the negotiation. They noted that in more profitable fossil fuel contexts, reaching such agreements could be politically more challenging. The authors argue that policies reducing fossil fuel demand are essential to creating economic conditions favourable for phasing out supply.

This research illustrates that managing the complex politics of climate change involves engaging stakeholders in decision-making and offering credible alternatives to fossil fuel livelihoods.

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