2024 could be a triumph for democracy as it’s expected to be the biggest global election year in history.
Across the world, it’s predicted that over 60 countries will take to the polls, plus the European Union.
All of these election results will come with new green policy, which will no doubt shape the future of the climate in the next decade.
Away from the consequences for our climate, these elections will potentially shape the global political landscape for years to come. Key elections in both the UK and US will shape the intentions of these two western powers over the next 4 years.
In Asia, key elections in Taiwan, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, will see over 1 billion voters head to the polls. It is anticipated that the more authoritarian and populist parties will see high levels of support, a shift that was seen in both the Netherlands and Italy last year.
Let’s start at home. Here in the UK we don’t technically have an election until January 2025. However, it is predicted that Sunak will call an election before this date, sometime in 2024. This will be after 14 years of Conservative led rule.
The UK political landscape tends to come in large cycles of power, with the Conservatives being in control for 18 years under Thatcher and Major, before Labour took over, under Blair and Brown for 13 years.
Since then, the Tories have been in power since 2010 starting with David Cameron, then Theresa May, Boris Johnson, Liz Truss and finally Rishi Sunak. The most recent cycle has been nothing short of chaotic, from austerity and Brexit to the handling of the Covid-19 pandemic and Partygate.
This is partly why 2024 is shaping up to be a significant year, as polls suggest that a Labor victory under Sir Keir Starmer will be the most likely outcome.
So when can we expect to have a UK general election?
Well, this will all depend on when Sunak wants it, but previously superstition, time of year and the weather tend to dictate the timing of elections. Sunak recently told the press of his “working assumption” that there will be a general election in “the second half of this year”.
If the election does happen in Autumn 2024, this would mean the UK and US campaigns will no doubt overlap and we will see leaflets going through the doors of houses in Boston and Bristol.
Last Autumn, The Climate looked at the main takeaways from the Labour, Conservative and Green Party conferences, where green policy pledges were made. If the Green’s went all the way to power, their ecologist views, which give intrinsic value to nature beyond its economic utility would be the most positive for the planet, however, it’s more than likely that either Labour or the Tories will take home a majority share of votes.
So what can we expect?
Let’s start with the premise that the bar Labour have to beat is pretty low. In recent years Tory green policy has been pretty abysmal. 2023 Conservative Party policy was crowned by the approval of mining in the Rosebank North Sea oil field.
So what would labour do differently if they triumphed in 2024?
At heart, Sir Keir Starmer, the leader of the Labour Party is conscious of climate issues and has a good track record in and out of politics for choosing the green initiative. His previous record as a human rights lawyer saw him win cases for Greenpeace and he defended two environmental activists after they were sued for libel by McDonalds.
Starmer has taken this green approach with him into politics as in 2023, Labour announced an ambitious spending plan of £28 billion per year under their Green Transformation.
The Green Transformation includes plans such as the “Great British Energy” scheme, announced by Keir Starmer at the Labour Party conference in 2022, which promises a state owned renewable energy firm.
Furthermore, Starmer sets a bold target for fossil fuel use as part of his pledge for the UK to be fossil fuel free by 2030, 5 years earlier than the Tories plans. Away from climate, Labour has also promised high quality water and air in a crackdown against pollution.
Finally, there is a plan in place for biodiversity, to help halt its collapse and protect natural areas.
It feels as though Labour is approaching the challenge of climate change as an opportunity to rebuild a green economy, make society more equitable and improve nature. However, recently the Tories have weaponised the scaling back of green policy by Labour in the chamber, as it was announced that they were set to amend their initial spending of £28 billion per year on green solutions.
Possibly a tactical cutback by Labour to appeal to voters stuck in the middle, however, it’s imperative that his ambitious plans do not crumble into 2024 if they are dragged into another culture war.
The latest results show that the Tories are down in the polls and unless they have a successful March budget and the economy picks up then we can expect an Autumn election — an election they are predicted to lose.
But what if the Tories win?
Well, we would have four more years of Sunak in Number 10, if he does not lose the support of his own party, which seems to be self imploding by the day.
We can expect a continuation of the “Net Zero” pledge, however, the Conservatives still remain hostile towards environmental policy. In the Tory party conference last year, Sunak demonised environmental policy, cut back on HS2 and warned about the costs of green economic policy in an attempt to claw back some electoral credibility. Sunak has also previously stated he would put a ban on “15 minute cities”, a policy that would impact climate goals.
In summary, a Conservative win will come with an agenda for the climate, but it does not go far enough to see the decisive change that is required to meet the net zero targets.
Furthermore, depending on the result in the US, the Tories could be pressured to follow Trump’s hardline plan for climate policy that would see it more or less abandoned.
United States of America
The US is responsible for 11% of the global greenhouse gas emissions, so their 2024 election is pivotal for the climate.
(Trump 2024 “I’ll be back” flag & 2nd Amendment US flag // Gilbert Mercier // Flickr)
The US presidential elections always fall on the first Tuesday, after the first Monday in November, and in 2024 it’s set to be a rematch between current president Joe Biden and his old and indicted foe, Donald Trump.
This will be a presidential election of enormous significance, as recent statements suggest that Trump’s first term was just a clearing of the throat, as he seeks to rectify the mistakes of his first term, in an authoritarian power grab.
How likely is a Trump victory? Well this last week Trump won big in Iowa, cementing his position as a clear front runner for 2024, ahead of Biden.
– Donald Trump
The above quote was made by Donald Trump at a town hall event in the lead up to Iowa hosted by Fox News, it’s in reference to closing the southern border with Mexico and then expanding oil drilling on a huge scale.
If this is anything to go by, then a second Trump presidency will be disastrous for our climate as any expansion to the oil and gas industry is backwards. Trump has publicly denied climate science and he is appealing to an anti-net-zero populism that has grown massively since his last spell in office, proving once again that climate change policy is now a culture war.
On an international scale, Trump will pull out of the Paris Agreement (again), setting a dangerous precedent for global climate policy. This could lead to a domino effect as other major economies under similar leaders decide to follow suit.
If Trump’s campaign did collapse and Biden was to see out another 4 years, then we can expect investment to continue in green energy and keep up with the Green Climate Fund for developing nations.
(President Kagame hosts Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India for bilateral talks | Kigali, 23 July 2018 // Paul Kagame // Flickr)
As the third biggest global emitter of greenhouse gases, the 2024 Indian presidential election is also hugely significant. Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which follows a Hindu-nationalist agenda, will be going for a third term in power..
According to political projections, a victory for Modi is the most likely outcome for 2024. He is coined as a “political strongman” and remains popular with the large majority of the Indian-Hindu population. In 2023, the BJP won big in 3 state elections in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh, reaffirming the popularity of Modi.
However, since coming to power in 2014, reports out of India note that he has muzzled the media, eroding the independence of the judiciary and overseen an unprecedented consolidation of power.
If Modi does consolidate his position as president again in 2024, what can we expect for our climate?
In the past, Modi has been conscious of climate change, as India continues to be one of the most affected nations, with massive spikes in extreme weather such as flooding and drought seen in recent years.
Furthermore, due to the varied demography in India, the impacts of climate change are widespread, encompassing issues such as glacial melt, sea level rise, and declining groundwater levels. The latter has severe consequences for India’s indispensable agricultural economy. More recently, the Kashmir region has not seen snow due to climate change, causing distress for tourism and agriculture.
With India being so vulnerable to climate change, you may suggest that Modi puts climate change at the forefront of his manifesto, however; the BJP have not released the official documents for the new campaign.
If previous terms are anything to go by, India is a leader for green policy in the global south and we can expect a similar plan to be carried forward.
At COP28, Modi said that all developing countries must be given “a fair share in the global carbon budget”. Which leaves some doubt in what to expect from India in 2024, as they may be expecting a rise in their carbon budget over the next year.
If Modi decides to push back on green policy, we could see some of the green incentives be sacrificed for policy that improves the situation on poverty, agriculture and business. That said, according to the BJP website and the remainder of Modi’s speech at COP28, a Modi re-election is positive news for the climate.
Modi asked the world to rise above self interest and aim to create a better climate. Modi also suggested a new green credit initiative to handle global carbon credits, also urging other nations to be careful with the use of these credits.
Finally, Modi proposed that India should be the one to host the 2028 summit as a leader for the global south, setting an example for sustainable development.
The elections for the EU take place between the 6th and 9th of June this year.
In the European elections, citizens of European Union countries elect their representatives as Members of the European Parliament (MEPs). MEPs help shape policy that is effective on a European level.
For example, in December 2019, during a session of the European Council (EC), leaders of the EU reached a consensus, endorsing the goal for the EU to attain “climate neutrality” or “Net Zero” by the year 2050.
As a whole since 1990, the EU has been reducing its emissions compared to levels seen in 1990, however, in some industries such as transport and international aviation emissions have risen in this time frame.
2024 is shaping up to be an interesting year for the European Commission as current President Ursula von der Leyen has not yet publicly indicated her decision to seek re-election for a second term. Ultimately, this leaves the door open for a reshaping of the European Council that could have implications for climate policy and international law.
(EU flags at the European Commission Berlaymont building // Guillaume Périgois // Unsplash)
These elections will be the first since the Covid-19 pandemic and post-pandemic economic recovery policy will not be at the forefront of agendas, however, it is expected that climate policy may also be taking a backseat.
With a rise in far right populism sprouting up across Europe and a widespread cost of living crisis, it’s suggested that this helps the right wing agenda.
Furceri et al‘s (2021) findings highlight that the political costs of climate policies are elevated in contexts of high inequality and limited social insurance. Examining Italy, Colantone et al (2023) revealed that the implementation of green policies resulted in heightened income losses, contributing to an increased tendency for voters to support the right-wing, populist Lega Nord.
In light of this, it could be suggested that a regulatory pause of climate policy and decarbonisation efforts at the forefront of Centralist/Left European Council policy, could help in the long-term.
By focusing more on economic growth, job security and reinforcing the European single market, leaders could help quell the rise of the right.
The rest of the world
India, the UK, US and the EU will all have huge implications for the climate in 2024. But, as mentioned, over 60 countries will be taking to the polls this year.
General elections will take place in Indonesia on February 14th of this year, a key election for the climate.
Firstly, the Indonesian general election is a fierce competition where three pairs of candidates have an opportunity to take control of proceedings for the next five years. Indonesia’s current plan for the climate is failing, as much of its energy relies on coal and the “Just Energy Transition Partnership” for off-grid coal plants are not compatible with climate targets.
Current predictions show that national power emissions could exceed 400 MtCO2 by 2030, surpassing more than double the threshold necessary to align with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5C temperature limit.
Going forward, all the candidates are proposing a new net-zero target, sustainable forest management and a shift to renewables. However, their climate strategies differ in approach and ambition.
The Indonesian presidential election is certainly one to watch.
In Bangladesh we have already seen the appointment of PM Sheikh Hasina, who won a fourth term in office after a controversial vote.
As for their neighbours Pakistan, over 200 million voters will go to the polls in less than 2 weeks. Unfortunately for the climate, green policy remains largely absent from the key slogans of candidates, which is sad, as this is a country that has been torn apart by climate change and national debt continues to rise as a consequence.
Finally, in Finland their presidential elections take place this weekend. The most recent polls suggest that the centre-right candidate Alexander Stubb is edging it over the green candidate Pekka Haavisto in a new opinion poll. A blow for the climate if Stubb is successful, as Finland has been renowned as a leader in positive climate policy.
So, it’s all to play for as we roll into the start of 2024. Where we’ll be at the end of it, no one quite knows. What’s clear is that this year is significant and each vote matters for the future of the climate.
Maybe it’s time that the world voted for the planet?