Photo via envato

Will the climate win the 2024 elections?

It’s the biggest election year ever. Here’s what that means for climate action

This year is a watershed year for democracy: in 2024, more people will cast a ballot than ever before.

National elections are set to be held in at least 64 countries, as well as the European Union – representing almost half of the world’s population combined, and their votes will shape climate and environmental policy decisions for many years to come.

So, will our new world leaders finally take decisive action to tackle the climate crisis, or can we expect more business as usual?

Here are seven elections around the world in 2024 that could make or break our future on this rapidly heating planet.

White House
Will the White House have a new occupant this year? David Everett Strickler, Unsplash

The United States

Probably the most consequential election will take place in the U.S., the world’s second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases.

The outcome of this year’s presidential election will see it either continue a green energy transition – or severely curtail it.

“We have made enormous progress thanks to President [Joe] Biden’s leadership over the past three and a half years, and we need to keep moving forward,” says David Kieve, president of EDF Action, the advocacy partner of Environmental Defense Fund.

In its first term, the Biden administration has offered clean energy tax incentives and credits to consumers and businesses through the Inflation Reduction Act and Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

These perks will kick in over a 10-year period, he says. “We need to keep those going as quickly as we can.”

And by demonstrating international leadership on climate and doing all it can to promote the nascent clean energy manufacturing sector, he says, the U.S. “will encourage other countries to step up with similar policies.”

But if Donald Trump should win, Kieve sees quite a different scenario. “It’s very clear that if he is coming back, he is coming with a plan to halt all of the progress we have made,” he says. “Even without fully repealing the law, it is possible for him to render such tax credits largely unusable.”

Trump, who has taken to railing against electric vehicles at his rallies, is also likely to pull the U.S. out of the Paris Agreement again – as he did in 2017, before the Biden administration reversed that move in 2021.

“If he were to say that the United States wants to be a global leader in the production of fossil fuel energy, the adoption of such a policy would have enormous impact.”

Kieve’s organization feels so strongly about the need to avoid a Trump return to government that it has announced a USD 20 million campaign to oppose his reelection and support candidates with more climate-friendly policies.

“His animus against clean energy has clearly grown, simply because he is against it – and not because of any grounding in science or economics,” Kieve argues.

The latest polls show Biden and Trump neck and neck, but projections show Trump slightly ahead on the crucial electoral votes that will determine the winner of the election.

New Delhi
A street in the Indian capital, New Delhi. Laurentiu Morariu, Unsplash

India

From mid-April to early June, another important set of elections will take place in the world’s most populous country: India.

While it is the world’s third-largest carbon emitter, India ranks outside the top 100 in terms of per capita emissions.

Politically, “the reality is that climate change is not relevant in India at all,” says Aseem Prakash, a professor of political science at the University of Washington. Rather, economic growth is the primary focus for both political parties – and the country’s electorate.

India’s current ruling coalition, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, is on track to win reelection by a landslide.

Modi wants to see his country become a superpower and gain a place of prominence on the international stage, says Prakash, “and this is where climate change and talk about climate change comes in: in India’s quest for global legitimacy.”

“Under Modi, India has very aggressive emission reduction targets and is also investing heavily in solar panels,” he says. “What’s more, they want to on-shore the supply chain and reduce their reliance on China.”

The country’s private sector is also scaling up emerging technologies such as green hydrogen, battery storage and low-carbon steel, cement and fertilizers, according to the International Energy Agency.

“Economic growth at this stage requires massive investment in infrastructure, so India needs energy that’s cheap and reliable,” says Prakash.

Currently, much of that is coal-based – thus explaining India’s high overall carbon emissions and severe air pollution in its major cities. But the country does want to eventually let go of coal, he says.

“So with Modi, nothing will really change,” he says. “If anything, India’s climate mitigation targets will get accelerated, although the issue is not mitigation but adaptation.”

Pakistan Monument
The Pakistan Monument in Islamabad. Syed Fahim Haider, Unsplash

Pakistan

India’s neighbor, Pakistan, held a general election in February. Despite producing relatively low greenhouse gas emissions, the country is already reeling from the effects of the climate crisis, including devastating floods in 2022 that affected some 33 million people.

Pakistan’s new government has done little of substance on climate change but is open to receiving international development aid on issues such as restoring the Indus River.

But, says Prakash, “the question is: are you willing to reform domestic institutions to achieve climate targets? The answer is no. There’s been some hand wringing, but essentially, it’s a game of political survival.”

Bangladesh plains
Much of Bangladesh is covered by low-lying plains. Kamal Hossain, Unsplash

Bangladesh

Like Pakistan, Bangladesh is highly vulnerable to the climate crisis, with much of the country lying below sea level. However, it’s been doing much more to prepare, Prakash points out.

Sheikh Hasina, who won a fifth term as prime minister in January, introduced the Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan in 2009 and amended the country’s constitution in 2011 to include environmental protection.

“She has a long-term vision, and the country is growing economically,” says Prakash.

European Parliament
A European Parliament election will take place in June. Frederic Köberl, Unsplash

The European Union

Elections in Europe will be another major event to watch as voters from the 27 E.U. member states go to the polls in June to elect 720 members to the European Parliament.

Opinion polls are already projecting a major shift to the right and away from parties advocating the far-reaching environmental policies that have been passed or proposed over the past five years, including the European Green Deal.

Far-right parties across the bloc have attacked green policies for hurting farmers, and they could form a coalition to undermine member states’ climate obligations. Some nature-based policies, including proposed nature restoration laws, have already been watered down.

But as Corinne Le Quéré, a climate scientist at the University of East Anglia, remarked in a recent article in Nature, “there’s not a lot of room to roll back decisions on climate.”

In fact, a Eurobarometer survey last year found that 85 percent of E.U. citizens believe the bloc should invest massively in renewable energy.

“Generally, renewable ambition has increased Europe-wide,” says Harriet Fox, an energy and climate analyst at the independent thinktank Ember.

“A lot of countries have already exceeded their previous targets on, for example, solar capacity, and that goes to show that country targets often lag behind what’s happening in industry.”

So, whatever happens in June, she adds, the solar industry is forecasting continuous growth, while wind industry associations say that the E.U. is almost on track to reach its 2030 renewable energy targets.

Westminster
The U.K. is highly likely to see a change in government this year. Deniz Fuchidzhiev, Unsplash

The United Kingdom

Polls are already pointing to a changing of the guard at Westminster, with the opposition Labour Party set to win a majority in this year’s general election.

Its leader Keir Starmer, his pick for chancellor, Rachel Reeves, and his secretary for green investment, Ed Miliband, all hold solid pro-environment bona fides. But Labour has climbed down from its ambitious pledge to spend GBP 28 billion a year on green investments.

However, says Fox, “clean power by 2030 is still in the Labour manifesto. The quicker we get to clean power, the quicker our emissions will go down.”

The current Conservative government has set a target of fully decarbonizing the U.K.’s electricity supply by 2035 – five years later than proposed by Labour.

If it achieves this goal by 2030, the U.K. will become the first major economy to reach such a milestone, says Fox.

“The things we need to do and change are the same for 2030 and 2035,” she says. “Build up power networks, increase the availability of demand-side flexibility, make it easier for batteries to get to market, and focus on delivery of offshore wind to ensure that the capacity that is currently in the pipeline is delivered. We also need to unlock more solar and onshore wind.”

The big question that remains unanswered is whether a Labour government, having already ditched its green investment pledge, will follow through on making those investments.

Mexico City
Mexico City. Perenganita Martinez, Unsplash

Mexico

Mexican voters, meanwhile, also go to the polls in June. Once again, the leading candidate, Claudia Sheinbaum of the Morena party, is performing a balancing act when it comes to energy policy.

Her main opponent will be Xóchitl Gálvez, who represents a coalition of political parties that oversaw a major energy reform in 2013, when the Mexican Congress passed a series of constitutional amendments to open up the country’s energy sector, including renewables, to private and foreign investment.

Sheinbaum, an environmental scientist and former member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, brings a deep understanding of the issue. But she may be reluctant to challenge the ideals of current president Andrés Manuel López Obrador, says Carlos Ramirez, an economic risk consultant at Mexico City-based Integralia Consultores.

López Obrador has favoured the country’s two big state-owned energy companies, Pemex and the Federal Energy Commission, over the private sector. As a result, private investment in renewables has dropped since he was elected in 2018.

“If she’s not willing to take high-cost political decisions, all that she has been saying about renewables, about climate change, about changing Mexico’s energy matrix is never going to happen,” he says.

Sheinbaum, however, has said that Mexico must speed up its transition to clean energy and that both public and private finance have a role to play in achieving that.

She will also cap Pemex’s oil production at 1.8 million barrels a day and use renewable energy sources to meet demand, which is growing thanks to a near-shoring trend that has seen foreign companies move operations from China to Mexico.

With market forces already bullish on renewable energy sources around the world, some might question whether it even matters who wins this year’s elections.

For Fox, however, clear policy direction is needed for progress.

“As the energy transition growth continues, it is no longer just about wind and solar,” she says. “It’s about the electricity grid, batteries and all of the other enabling things that go with that transition.”

“Some of those are more nascent technologies that will need policy support, like wind and solar did in their early days as well.”

BE PART OF THE MOVEMENT

Finally…

…thank you for reading this story. Our mission is to make them freely accessible to everyone, no matter where they are. 

We believe that lasting and impactful change starts with changing the way people think. That’s why we amplify the diverse voices the world needs to hear – from local restoration leaders to Indigenous communities and women who lead the way.

By supporting us, not only are you supporting the world’s largest knowledge-led platform devoted to sustainable and inclusive landscapes, but you’re also becoming a vital part of a global movement that’s working tirelessly to create a healthier world for us all.

Every donation counts – no matter the amount. Thank you for being a part of our mission.

Sidebar Publication

Related articles

Related articles