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The 2024 Elections: A Decisive Moment for the World

In this article we’ll explore the most crucial elections of 2024, examining what their outcomes could mean for the environment.
Ecology News
2024-01-25T00:00:00.000Z
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The year 2024 is quickly shaping up to be a historic milestone in electoral history and is arguably the most significant election year we've ever seen. Across the world, a number of crucial elections are set to unfold, carrying implications that resonate far beyond their national borders. These elections are critical not only for the citizens and internal policies of these nations but also for global geopolitical dynamics and, significantly, environmental policies. In this article, we’ll focus on this last aspect – exploring what the outcomes of these elections could mean for the ongoing battle against climate change, a global challenge that knows no borders.

👉 In this article we’ll explore the most crucial elections of 2024, examining what their outcomes could mean for the environment.

2024 elections

In 2024, nearly half of the global population (49%), amounting to about 4 billion individuals, will possess the right to vote. This represents a significant collective force, one with the potential to profoundly impact environmental policies. Each political candidate offers a unique stance on climate policy, and their level of commitment to tackling global climate change varies markedly. The choices made by voters could therefore have substantial consequences in shaping our planet's environmental future.

In this article, we will delve into the most anticipated elections of the year, focusing on their environmental implications. We'll explore how the outcomes of these elections could significantly influence climate policy, shaping the global approach to environmental challenges.

US presidential race

The US presidential election is probably the world’s most hotly anticipated election this year, with repercussions for not only the US population but far-reaching international implications too.

The choice between President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump offers two starkly different candidates with completely different views on both foreign policy and climate change. A return to power for Trump would likely have a serious impact on funding support for the Ukrainian war and could even result in the country’s withdrawal from NATO. Trump’s approach towards climate policy could represent an equally dramatic turnaround, with reversals of Biden’s Biden’s more progressive environmental agenda a strong concern.

President Biden's climate policy achievements

Back in 2020, Joe Biden ran the most ambitious climate action platform of any major presidential candidate in the country’s history. And now, after three years in office, we can evaluate just what the President has been able to deliver. 

The good news is that President Biden has taken commendable steps to enhance US climate policy. In 2021 for example he strengthened the nation's nationally determined contribution (NDC), setting the target of reducing emissions by 50 to 52% (compared to 2005 levels) by 2030. Then in 2021, Biden managed to push the largest piece of climate legislation in US history through Congress. Through a variety of measures, including tax credits, the Inflation Reduction Act creates an extensive list of clean energy incentives, encouraging investment and development in the green sector.  

This is not to say that the US isn’t falling short in other aspects. The failure to establish carbon pricing or to implement a nationwide emissions cap or an emissions fee leaves a gaping gap in US climate policy. However, Donald Trump’s take on climate action is far more concerning.

Donald Trump's approach to climate change

Throughout his tenure as President, Donald Trump rolled back a large number of environmental regulations. He essentially removed or weakened over 100 different pieces of climate regulation during his time in office, watering down protections for the country’s air, water, and atmosphere. The former president also damaged the country’s reputation overseas by officially withdrawing from the Paris Climate Pact (the country rejoined under Biden in 2021) - a move that gave the go-ahead for other countries to weaken their own environmental protections, though thankfully none have followed the US in leaving the agreement. 

A second term under Donald Trump could prove even more disastrous for the climate, especially if Republicans can hold or even expand their control over Congress. Congressional Republicans have already raised the possibility of eliminating support for several key green funds, including preventing funding support for loss and damage funds. 

Even more alarming is the publication of a plan by conservative groups - with input from hundreds of authors including former Trump administration officials - which purports to limit the expansion of renewable energy and defund vital climate programs. 

This stance aligns with Trump's own views on environmental and climate policy. The former president has labeled clean energy as a "new scam business." He also recently vowed to fully exploit the "liquid gold" beneath the earth's surface, emphasizing that the United States possesses more "energy, oil, and gas than any other nation." He assured voters that a victory in 2024 would usher in an era of "drill, baby, drill." Such statements provide a clear indication of the environmental policy direction we might anticipate if Trump were to return to the Oval Office after the 2024 elections.

Concerningly, a Trump presidency looks to be a distinct possibility. Polls (which have admittedly been off-target in past elections) place Donald Trump in the lead against Biden (were the election to take place today). Though a lot can change between now and November, the fast-paced nature of US politics means that nothing is certain.  

👉 Learn the US Inflation Reduction Act in our article

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UK general election

The next general election in the UK must be held before January 28th, 2025, though Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has stated that he intends to call the election in the second half of 2024 (in the UK, the Prime Minister has the power to call a general election at any point within their five-year term). It looks likely therefore that voters in the UK will take to the polling booths later in 2024 to determine which political party will govern the country for the next five years. 

Although there are a number of popular political parties in the UK, traditionally the choice has always come down to two dominating options - the Conservative Party or the Labour Party, and this year looks set to be no different. 

The Conservatives have managed to hold on to power since winning the general election in 2010, though current polls paint a dire picture for the party and its leader, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. A detailed YouGov survey shows that if the election were to be held today Labour would win with a potential 120-seat majority. This outcome would not only establish Labour as the ruling party but also represent a victory of a magnitude not witnessed since the party's decisive triumph over the Conservatives back in 1997.

With such strong polls in favour of Labour, it’s hard to imagine that Rishi Sunak and the Conservative Party can turn things around in time for the general election - but as is always the case in politics, public opinion can change swiftly. Regardless, the polls will no doubt be hugely concerning for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and his team. 

It’s worth noting that in the UK, voters don’t have a direct say over the leaders of the political parties, this is something that is decided by party members, and so we already know that if the Labour Party wins the general election, party leader Keir Starmer will act as the UK’s Prime Minister. Likewise, if the Conservatives retain their hold on power, Rishi Sunak will continue in the position.  

Rishi Sunak's environmental track record

Current Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was selected to act as leader of the Conservative Party in October 2022, following the resignation of Lizz Truss after only 49 days in office (the shortest term of any UK Prime Minister). Truss also found herself in the position after Boris Johnson resigned from the role in July 2022. 

At first, it was hoped that Rishi Sunak would instil a more liberal form of Tory politics, yet the reality has been very different. In fact, Rishi Sunak represents one of the most conservative leaders since Margaret Thatcher. His tough stance on immigration and his more traditional line on social issues such as transgender rights have seen the party lean even further to the right. 

Equally concerning is Rishi Sunak’s sharp U-turn on a number of key green policies and a decline in the UK’s reputation as an international climate leader. Net zero policies that were watered down by Sunak include a delay on the ban on new petrol and diesel cars until 2035, the granting of new licenses for oil and gas projects in the North Sea, and the scrapping of plans to ensure that rental properties have a minimum energy performance. These acts were met with widespread condemnation from environmentalists and MPs alike. 

Some viewed the move as a political tactic, stemming from the Conservative Party’s win in the 2023 Uxbridge and South Ruislip by-election. The seat in question was previously held by Boris Johson and so a voter backlash was expected. Not only this, but Labour had heavily campaigned in the area. However, it was the Conservatives who retained the seat. This was attributed to their decision to target London’s Labour mayor, Sadiq Khan, and his low-emission strategy. The Conservatives accused the Labour Party of being anti-car and targeting owners of older vehicles. 

This anti-green rhetoric was used again by the Conservative Party, when Rishi Sunak announced his climate policy rollbacks in September 2023. He framed the decision as one that was centred on concern for people’s cost of living - but the subtext was clear; that green policies are expensive and elitist. This tactic, often referred to as wedge politics, signified a shift in the Conservative’s approach to climate change. Boris Johnson for example had been a strong proponent of climate change action and the party as a whole was generally supportive of environmental measures. 

Rishi Sunak has since attended COP28 in Dubai where he assured delegates that the measures do not represent a change in stance on the environment for the Conservative Party, he insisted that the UK is still focused on reaching net-zero emissions. Sunak did however state that decarbonisation should be pragmatic and that it shouldn't place unnecessary cost burdens on the average consumer. 

From Rishi Sunak’s actions and his discourse on climate change, it appears that if he maintains his position as Prime Minister, climate commitments may take a backseat to cost considerations and retaining voter favor. Although the UK’s climate commitments and policies are currently robust, under Sunak's leadership, significant advancement in these areas seems unlikely, a fact that raises concerns.

The Labour party's approach to climate policy

But what about the Labour leader, Keir Starmer? What is his track record when it comes to the environment? 

Keir Starmer is an entirely different leader to Rishi Sunak - though equally pragmatic in his own way. Initially, Starmer was seen as leaning left of the party, however, over time his policies have shifted towards the center - perhaps in an attempt to gain more widespread support across the country and appeal to voters who have become disillusioned by Conservative scandals. 

When it comes to the environment Starmer has stated that he intends to roll back some of the controversial policy changes enforced by RIshi Sunak, he has also reaffirmed his commitment to decarbonizing the UK economy, highlighting the need to address climate change as an opportunity. 

It seems more than likely, therefore, that a Labour government will be the better choice when it comes to environmental protection and climate action. And with polls putting Starmer firmly ahead, the UK could be poised to re-emerge as a front-runner in global climate leadership. 

👉 To learn more about Rishi Sunak and his environmental track record head over to our blog. Or to understand Labour’s stance on climate policy check out our article

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India general election

India is now the most populous country in the world, with over 1.4 billion people calling it their home. And in April or May of this year, they are expected to take to the polls, shaping the political landscape of the country for the foreseeable future. 

This year's election in India is a general election which means that the country will select its central government. The Lok Sabha is India’s lower House of Parliament and it is set to dissolve on the 16th of June 2024 - the equivalent in the UK would be the House of Commons, and in the US it would be the House of Representatives. 

The last general election in the country was held in 2019. Voters elected the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), as the nation’s government. This marked Narendra Damodardas Modi’s second term as India’s Prime Minister, a victory that he is hoping to repeat again in 2024. 

The prime minister of India is the head of the country’s government, with the right to exercise executive authority even though India’s president is the nominal head of the elective. What this means in practice is that all executive powers are carried out by the prime minister instead of the president. The role of the president is sometimes referred to as ceremonial in nature and can be likened to that of the British monarchy - ie. The president acts as a referee over the parliamentary system, but the real power lies with the prime minister. 

A third term for Narendra Modi? 

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been a reasonably popular leader, particularly in the North of the country - in the south of the country however, his support significantly waned. Yet, despite a lack of popularity in some regions, political analysts in India indicate that the BJP will most likely win the general election again in 2024, heralding a third term for Modi. 

The main opposition, the Indian National Congress party, is not seen as a realistic threat capable of toppling the ruling party from its position of dominance. Support for the opposition is not widespread throughout the country and it struggles with infighting and other issues. 

This means that we can reasonably predict that Prime Minister Modi will maintain his position of power. It also means that we have a pretty good idea of what a third term of ruling under the BJP means for India and the environment. So what is Prime Minister Modi’s environmental track record? 

Climate change in India

India is a developing country with a rapidly growing population. This means that one of the country’s main focuses is on improving living standards and growing the economy. But fuelling such ambitions isn’t easy. In the past, coal and fossil fuels have been more readily available to India and currently, these harmful fossil fuels make up the bulk of the country’s energy mix. 

Coal - the dirtiest of all fossil fuels - is the country’s top energy source, providing 46% of the country’s energy in 2022. Oil comes in second with a share of 24%, followed by biomass at 21%. Natural gas accounts for 5% and clean energy such as hydro, solar, wind, and nuclear provide just 4% of the country’s electricity. 

These figures are clearly of concern, both in terms of global carbon emissions and the direct effects on the country itself. Levels of pollution in India are dangerously high. India has some of the worst air quality in the world. According to the WHO, in 2018, 14 out of the 15 most polluted cities in the world could be found in India. In 2023, India found itself slightly better off, with only 10 cities making their way into the list of the top 15 most polluted cities in the world, however, if you take the top 50 most polluted cities, a whopping 39 of them can be found in India!

The alarming levels of pollution in India are causing severe impacts on both the environment and the health of residents in its cities, marking it as a critical nationwide issue. Addressing this challenge is a priority for Prime Minister Modi, who is actively seeking solutions to mitigate these detrimental effects.

India's climate targets

At the 2021 COP26 summit, India notably escalated its climate ambitions, committing to achieve net zero emissions by 2070. This target, while less aggressive than the 2050 goal set by developed nations, represents a significant step for India. Additionally, the country has revised its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC), outlining a more robust set of targets. Key among these are a reduction in the emissions intensity of its GDP by 45% by 2030 and a commitment to ensuring that renewable energy accounts for 50% of its energy needs by the same year.

Prime Minister Modi has also been a long-term proponent of renewable energy sources such as solar power. He has promoted a market-based approach within the country to encourage the development of green technology and the creation of green jobs, as opposed to a stricter regulatory approach. This aligns with his belief that it’s possible to both advance the economy and protect the environment at the same time. 

Another interesting observation when it comes to Prime Minister Modi and climate change is that he’s not afraid to call the West out for its role in global warming. Industrialization, while allowing countries in the West to rapidly develop, and for living standards to improve too, is what got us into this mess in the first place. Our reliance on fossil fuels has disrupted the carbon balance and we’re now starting to see the impacts. The real point of contention for developing nations is that they’re now being asked to forgo the same opportunity to develop for the sake of the environment, while countries in the West - who largely created the situation - are failing to cough up even the bare minimum in terms of financing to help developing nations not only transition but also deal with the damaging effects of a changing climate. 

When it comes to the environment, Prime Minister Modi is a known quantity, and since it looks likely that he’s set to continue into a third term, there is optimism that he will persist in championing the green transition, steering India towards a more carbon-neutral future.

Prime Minister Modi often says the right things, however, with the vast majority of the country’s energy still being supplied by harmful fossil fuels, there’s a tremendous amount of work still to be done and the fact that he’s shied away from committing to the phase-out of the country’s coal industry is also worrying. 

👉To understand why climate change is such a pressing challenge for India why not take a look at our dedicated article.

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Russia presidential election

Russia is set to hold its presidential election in March of this year, with the current president, Vladimir Putin, in the running for re-election. Putin first assumed office in 1999, initially bound by the Russian constitution to two consecutive four-year terms. However, constitutional amendments made in 2008 and 2020 have extended his eligibility, allowing him the possibility of serving two additional six-year terms.

Many observers in the West remain skeptical as to whether the elections will truly be fair and democratic. The treatment of Putin’s biggest political opponent, Alexei Navalny, and his subsequent criminal trials and incarceration (which are considered by many to be politically motivated) have cast serious doubts. Claims of political suppression have only grown in recent years as the war in Ukraine rages on. It’s therefore expected that the election will largely be dominated by Putin and that his win is essentially a foregone conclusion.

With the status quo likely to continue, what does it mean for Russia’s climate commitments? Russia has set climate targets of becoming carbon neutral by 2060 and limiting greenhouse gas emissions to 70% of 1990 levels by 2030. This might sound promising, however, climate experts have stated that these targets don’t go far enough if we’re to ensure that global warming is limited to 1.5 degrees Celsius (vs 1990s). 

Even more concerning is Russia’s stance at the recent COP28 summit in Dubai where their delegate spoke out against the phasing out of fossil fuels. The country’s recently updated climate doctrine also failed to mention fossil fuels or their role in global warming. 

Russia is a state that is heavily reliant on its oil and gas industry, 16% of its GDP is linked to the sector, and with the ongoing war in Ukraine putting pressure on the country’s funds there’s decreasing motivation to roll out costlier climate initiatives.  

Decarbonizing the Russian economy has undoubtedly taken a backseat to the Ukrainian war, and the resulting pressures that have been placed on the Russian economy due to Western sanctions. Restrictions on the import and export of goods mean that the Russian government has to replace Western goods with alternatives. This has meant that some green regulations have been rolled back - for example, stricter regulations on car engines have already been dropped.

Additionally, green projects that relied on Western cooperation (finance, technology, equipment, etc) are now unlikely to move forward. Research estimates that in order to reduce emissions and transition away from reliance on the oil and gas industry, Russia would require a significant amount of imported equipment and technology (55% in the oil industry and 45% in the power sector). 

With the inevitability that Putin will remain in power, and with no end in sight for the war in Ukraine, the outlook for Russia’s net zero transition looks more and more bleak. With Western countries pulling out of projects, and no sign of thawing relations between countries, sadly the environment will likely be another casualty of Putin’s ill-advised war.

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Municipal elections in Brazil

Once a respected player when it came to conservation, Brazil’s environmental credentials took a severe nose-dive under the tenure of the previous president, Jair Bolsonaro. Bolsonaro essentially presided over the destruction of more than 45,980 square km (between 2019 and 2022) of precious tropical rainforest. If you compare this to deforestation rates over the previous four years, this represents a 60.8% increase. 

Through the weakening environmental regulations and protections, cuts in funding, and the failure to recognize or protect indigenous land rights, there was a surge in deforestation of the Amazon rainforest during Bolsonaro's time in office. This was bad news not only for the Amazon rainforest but also for the fight against climate change. The Amazon rainforest is a vital carbon sink, helping to balance and absorb excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, its continued destruction risks turning the forest from a carbon sink into a carbon source. 

Thankfully for the environment, Bolsonaro lost the presidential election in 2022, and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (commonly referred to as Lula) became Brazil’s new president. Much of Lula's campaign focused on the Amazon rainforest and he pledged to end deforestation by 2030. Already by the close of 2023, we were able to see the effects of Lula’s work to strengthen the protection of the forest with deforestation levels at their lowest since 2018.

This all sounds like great news, and it is for the most part, however, the country is politically divided and Congress is in the hands of the opposition. 2024 will see voters take to the polls to elect their city mayors and councilors. And although the results won’t drastically impact Lula’s policies or efforts to protect the environment they should provide a snapshot of how voters might vote at the next general election in just two years. With the fate of the “Earth’s lungs” hanging in the balance, Brazil’s elections will be carefully watched around the globe. 

👉 This article dives into more detail on Bolsonaro’s catastrophic impact on the Amazon rainforest.  

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European Union elections

In June 2024, voters in the EU will head to the polls across the European Union to elect the new European Parliament, shaping the bloc's climate policy for the next five years. 

Climate policy within the European Union is greatly shaped by the EU Parliament, which wields considerable influence over the legal obligations of member states. For instance, EU nations are subject to legally binding climate targets aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, as stipulated by the EU’s Climate Law and the European Green Deal. Furthermore, the EU Parliament has formulated comprehensive climate strategies, such as the 2030 Climate and Energy Framework. This framework sets forth specific targets and policies for emission reduction across the bloc and facilitates the transition to clean energy. Hence, the forthcoming EU Parliament elections are poised to have profound implications for all 27 member countries of the European Union.

Historically, the EU parliament has been ambitious in its climate agenda and is responsible for some of the world’s most progressive climate targets and policies. This follows on from the last election held in 2019, where green parties saw a huge surge in public support, reflecting growing concern for the environment. The outcome of the election forced the Commission's president, Ursula von der Leyen (who still holds the position), to develop an ambitious climate agenda. What followed was four years of significant policy overhaul on the climate front. 

However, the upcoming elections threaten to knock the bloc off track. This is because polls are predicting a significant shift to the right in many EU countries, with populist and radical right-wing parties gaining a surge in support. It’s now possible that a populist right coalition could take the majority in parliament. 

While this is concerning and a right-leaning parliament will certainly make passing ambitious climate policies harder, the impact of such a result would likely be tempered by the fact that the bloc doesn’t function like a national parliament. Decision-making within the EU is a complex process with multiple layers. Policy priorities are not unilateral decisions but are instead shaped by a multitude of factors and processes. 

European political parties create their manifestos before the election goes ahead in June, while heads of state agree on a ‘strategic agenda for the EU’ outlining priorities for the upcoming years. Once a new Commission president is selected, they too will create their own agenda. These processes should work to lessen the impact of an extreme right parliament. 

Still, the fact remains that we are unlikely to see climate and the environment get the kind of attention and support they enjoyed in the 2019 elections. The geopolitical climate has shifted significantly since the last election; we’ve lived through a global pandemic, war has broken out on European soil once more, and the situation in the Middle East has deteriorated drastically. The impacts of these events mean that voters are now more concerned with issues such as the cost of living crisis, the economy, and global security. 

Despite this potential shift in focus and support, the next EU parliamentary session will be unable to avoid the topic of environmental issues altogether. There’s been a push for a follow-up to the bloc's green growth strategy for example, with calls for a European Green Deal 2.0 to be developed, focusing more closely on issues such as green tech and industrial policy. 

The interim climate target for 2040 is also yet to be established. Targets have been set for 2030, and the EU Commission will present a proposal for the 2040 goals in February this year, however, this is likely to be debated for months ahead. 

The results of the EU election this year will potentially impact how ambitious (or unambitious) the bloc's climate targets and agenda actually are. An extreme right parliament could mean that environmental concerns take a backseat, something that is particularly concerning given the urgency of the net zero transition. Now is certainly not the time to take the foot off the pedal.
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Looking ahead to the 2024 elections

As 2024 unfolds, it's clear that the elections around the globe aren't just about who gets to lead; they're about the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the world we'll leave behind. Every vote cast this year carries with it the weight of our planet's future.

In the US, the stark contrast between Biden's climate-forward policies and Trump's 'drill, baby, drill' mantra paints a clear picture of the crossroads at which we stand. The UK's political tug-of-war between Sunak and Starmer could very well decide whether the country steps up or steps back in the global environmental arena. And in India, Modi's balancing act between economic growth and environmental protection could set a precedent for developing nations everywhere. Let's not forget the EU, where the impending elections could either fuel or weaken some of the world's most progressive climate initiatives.

The rise of populist leaders in Western democracies throws yet another curveball into the mix. These politicians represent a very real threat to climate solutions, risking years of environmental progress for the sake of immediate political gains. Their growing popularity serves as a stark reminder that climate policy is as much about political will as it is about scientific necessity.

Every ballot cast in these elections is more than just a vote for a leader; it's a vote for the kind of world we want to live in. It's about recognizing that our local choices have global consequences, especially for those in climate-vulnerable areas who face the brunt of our actions (or inactions). As voters step into polling booths this year, they're not just deciding their country's future, they're tipping the scales for the global battle against climate change. The decisions made could accelerate our journey towards a greener tomorrow or put the brakes on the progress we desperately need. In the end, 2024 isn't just another election year; it's a choice about our planet's path forward.

What about Greenly?

At Greenly we can help you to assess your company’s carbon footprint, and then give you the tools you need to cut down on emissions. Why not request a free demo with one of our experts - no obligation or commitment required. 

If reading this article has inspired you to consider your company’s own carbon footprint, Greenly can help. Learn more about Greenly’s carbon management platform here.

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