Skip to content
Subscriber Only
Leonid Bershidsky

Politicians Can Promise the Earth, By 2040

From curbing smoking to reducing carbon emissions, governments are making big commitments - for their successors.

Blue sky thinking.

Blue sky thinking.

Photographer: FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images

If you’re a politician accused of short-term thinking, here’s a strategy: Set a bold policy goal and a deadline far enough in the future that you can be sure you will no longer be in office. And remember to make that date a nice round number. 

Most promises of this kind revolve around public health or the environment. In England, the government has pledged to end smoking by 2030. Around the world, 13 countries have announced plans to phase out fossil fuel-powered vehicles between 2030 and 2040. Some cities have even gone further: Amsterdam plans to ban all polluting vehicles by 2030. The new president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, called for a 50% reduction in carbon emissions from their 1990 levels by 2030 – only to raise that target to 55% after pressure from European lawmakers.