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BC3 Summer School: Climate Crisis and the Rise of Authoritarian Populist Movements in Europe

July 1, 2024 @ 9:00 am - 7:00 pm

Authoritarian populist movements are emerging in the global context (e.g. in the US, Russia, India, Brazil, Argentina), and Europe (e.g. in Holland, Finland, France, Hungary). This phenomenon shares several characteristics at an international level, partly derived from the current phase of exhaustion of a globalized economic model, which in turn entails a concatenation of cyclical and structural crises (“poly-crises”) that generate high levels of insecurity and uncertainty in society. At the same time, the rise of populist movements is revealing the weaknesses of the political model of representative democracy.

Populist movements respond and adapt to national contexts. Although there are different analyses of the causes of the rise of authoritarian populism, the effects that this entails on the climate crisis are not usually debated and analysed in depth. The objective of this Summer Course is to shed light on the possible effects of the rise of authoritarian populism in Europe and internationally on the fight against climate change.

To do this, it is necessary to make a diagnosis of the populist discourses on sustainable development, the geopolitical situation, the processes (in the Basque Country and the Spanish State) and analyse several key aspects, such as the role of (mis)information, environmental movements, and the evolution of environmental conflicts.


9:00-09:25Openning: Unai Pascual y Eguzki Urteaga (Euskara, Castellano)

Keynote speaker: Why do populists challenge European climate action and what can we do about it?

Robert Huber | University of Salzburg – Professor of Political Science Methods at the Department of Political Science

As climate change proceeds, it poses significant challenges to liberal democracies in Europe. Policymakers face the delicate balance of fulfilling their responsibility in policy-making while remaining responsive to public opinion. In this nexus, populists find an ideal climate to attack the nature of climate politics.  Consequently, populists increasingly oppose extensive climate action in Europe.  This presentation examines the multifaceted relationship between populism and climate change through theoretical and empirical lenses. Dividing the talk into three parts, I start by exploring the underlying theoretical mechanisms linking populism to positions on climate change. Second, I review the existing empirical evidence. Finally, I propose potential mitigation strategies to navigate this complex dynamic.


Populism in today’s international geopolitical context

Asier Blas | UPV/EHU – Profesor

Since the beginning of the 21st century, we have been witnessing Western economic decline, which first accelerated dramatically with the financial crisis of 2008. The effect of the economic blow was very hard on the working classes, while at the same time wars in the service of Western hegemony were expanding. From then on, the erosion of Western hegemony began to spread to the military and political-diplomatic spheres, with two major new accelerations of these multidimensional processes, first the COVID 19 pandemic in 2020 and then the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022 and the proxy military and direct economic confrontation between the West and part of the global South. In this context, from 2008 to the present, attempts to achieve profound changes and reforms through liberal-democratic political processes have proved incapable of fighting economic and social inequality. In the face of this reality, populist (in its pejorative sense) proposals have emerged, offering chauvinistic and “magical” solutions that are supported by part of the electorate as a kind of last-ditch attempt by the person who has nothing left to lose by trying a “quack”. Western decadence finds its expression in a diversion of attention from climate urgency to focus on the “national interest”, so that the establishment promotes and wages war with terrible ecological and human consequences, while perversely using the climate crisis for its geopolitical interests in a kind of climate authoritarianism. Meanwhile, populist responses, sustained by the discrediting of the managers of the really existing liberal-democracy, feed the denialist versions, taking advantage of the establishment’s identification with what they call the “ideology of climate change” or subordinate the fight against the climate crisis to the “national interest” for the sake of competition at the global level.


Uncertainty society and the growth of populism

Eguzki Urteaga | UPV/EHU – Profesor de Sociología

This lecture is concerned with the impact of the growing uncertainty affecting contemporary societies on the rise of populism. As a consequence of the end of grand narratives, the acceleration of change, the fragmentation of the social body, the rise of individuation and the strengthening of globalisation, today’s societies are faced not only with a multiplication of unforeseen events that have significant effects in the medium and long term, but also and above all with an intensification and diversification of uncertainty that extends to all spheres. This leads to an increase in risk and its social perception, which in turn leads to an increase in insecurity and the feeling of insecurity, especially in the social sphere. We defend the hypothesis that this growing uncertainty and source of concern favours the rise of populism, which offers a simplified explanation of society, considering that the latter is divided into two homogeneous and antagonistic groups, a supposedly united and virtuous people opposed to a supposedly corrupt elite united by common interests.

12:30 – 13:15

Climate Change: Some things cannot be denied

María José Sanz Sánchez | Basque Centre for Climate Change (BC3) – Directora BC3

Climate change, its causes and consequences are based on robust scientific evidence. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has produced six assessment reports involving more than 10,000 scientists from around the world. It represents a challenge that can be turned into an opportunity to transition to a better informed, more critical and fairer society.

13:15 – 14:45break
14:45 – 15:30

Are environmentalism and authoritarianism antagonistic? A historical perspective to face the future.

Iñaki Barcena Hinojal | UPV/EHU – Profesor

The rise of authoritarian right-wingers around the world has much to do with the current eco-social crisis and the populist responses to it. In German Nazism and the Spanish Falange we have recent historical examples that can help us understand such relationships. The defence of imperial ways of life and accelerated ecosocial collapse go hand in hand. Studying climate and environmental negationism (Trump, Bolsonaro, VOX, India… ) and the (re)appearance of environmentalism in new authoritarian discourses (Le Pen (F), Salvini (I), FPÖ (A)…) point to the high risk of authoritarianisms of scarcity and the need for an alternative eco-socialist-feminist alternative. What are the proposals of the environmental movement in the Basque Country and in Europe in the face of these authoritarian challenges?

15:30 – 16:15

The eco-social crisis and the rise of populism: The case of Spain

Yayo Herrero López | Consultora, investigadora y profesora en los ámbitos de la ecología política, los ecofeminismos y la educación para la sostenibilidad de la vida

We are going through a deep systemic crisis in which the different dimensions are interconnected. Climate chaos, the decline of energy and materials, the loss of biodiversity or the alterations in natural cycles condition, even if it is denied, the economy, politics and culture itself. This ecosocial crisis, which is at the root of the rise of populism, has its own characteristics in the context of the Spanish state. Analysing them is crucial for rethinking politics, both from the institutions and, above all, from the social movements.

16:15 – 17:00Break
17:00-18:30 CastellanoRound table: “The climate crisis and the phenomenon of populism in Europe”. With the participation of the speakers. Moderator: Unai Pascual.
18:30-19:00Conclusions and closing


Unai Pascual 06

Unai Pascual (BC3) is a lecturer at the Ikerbasque Research Centre and has more than 20 years of experience in the field of ecological economics, acquiring social and natural sciences to understand complex socio-cultural systems. He is a member of the Multidiscipline Expert Panel of Biodiversity and Ecosociology Services (IPBES). His main research focuses on the interaction between global environmental change and the economy, with particular attention to the evolving role of institutions, markets and environmental governance across scales. He has conducted research projects in countries around the world, including several European countries, the USA, Mexico, Peru, Bolivia, Colombia, India, Ethiopia and Malawi. Pascual has worked as a lecturer and senior lecturer in several European universities (Cambridge, Manchester, York, Barcelona, Bilbao) and Latin America (Argentina, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Colombia).



Eguzki Urteaga is Professor of Sociology at the University of the Basque Country (UPV-EHU) and Associate Researcher at the Social and Business Research Laboratory (SBRlab), a research centre at Rovira i Virgili University. He holds a doctorate and degree in Sociology from the Université Victor Segalen Bordeaux 2 and a degree in History and Geography from the Université de Pau et des Pays de l’Adour. He is the author of 34 books, including La Communauté Pays Basque: l’institutionnalisation du territoire (2017), La nouvelle politique linguistique au Pays Basque (2019) and La politique culturelle au Pays Basque (2021), as well as over 200 academic articles in Europe and Latin America. He has also been a visiting professor at several European universities (Bordeaux, Louvain, Coimbra, Paris and Rennes), while regularly collaborating with several media, including Euskal Telebista, Deia, Berria and Gara.




Robert A. Huber es profesor de Métodos de Ciencia Política en el Departamento de Ciencia Política de la Universidad de Salzburgo. Es doctor por la ETH de Zúrich (2018). El principal interés de investigación de Robert es explorar cómo la globalización presenta nuevos desafíos a la democracia liberal. Para ello, utiliza métodos de vanguardia para examinar la política comercial, la política climática y medioambiental, y el populismo. Robert ha publicado en varias revistas, entre ellas British Journal of Political Science, Comparative Political Studies, European Journal of Political Research y Political Analysis.



He is a lecturer in the Department of Political Science and Administration of the UPV/EHU, of which he was Director from 2018-2022. He is a member of the Parte Hartuz research group and Director of Geopolitikaz. His main lines of research are models of democracy, policies of accommodation of national diversity and international politics.



Degree in Law (1980) and PhD in Social and Political Sciences (1990) and Full Professor (2102) at the University of the Basque Country. Visiting researcher-professor at the University of Bradford (1986), Hamburg Universität (1996), Nevada University (1999). He is a member of EKOPOL and Ekologistak Martxan.



Consultant, researcher and teacher in the fields of political ecology, ecofeminisms and education for the sustainability of life. She holds a PhD in Social Sciences and Politics, is a Social and Cultural Anthropologist, Social Educator and Agricultural Engineer. She is a member-worker of Garúa Sociedad Cooperativa and participates in the environmental movement.



Ikerbasque Professor and BC3 Scientific Director since 2016, she is also a member of the Task Force Bureau on National Greenhouse Gas Inventories of the IPCC since July 2023. She graduated from the University of Valencia and did her post-doctoral studies at Arizona State University. Since then she has divided her time between research and research-policy interface work at national and international levels. On the academic side, she has published widely on air pollution dynamics and impacts in terrestrial ecosystems, climate change mitigation, environmental and climate change policy, GHG estimations and accounting in the LULUCF sector, and REDD+. She was in Senior Officer positions at the secretariat of the UNFCCC supporting climate change negotiations (2007-2011), and at FAO as Program Coordinator of the UNREDD Programme (2012-2015).



July 1, 2024
9:00 am - 7:00 pm
Event Categories:


BC3-Basque Centre for Climate Change
Sede Building 1, 1st floor, Scientific Park of the University of the Basque Country
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