2024 can, and should, be thought of as the year of the election. A record number of voters worldwide will cast their ballots across 64 countries and the European Union, representing around 49% of the global population. The results of these elections will shape the second half of this decade, with wide-reaching consequences. Let’s have a closer look at some of these elections, and how they could affect climate change policy going forward.

United States

In November, US voters will choose between the Democratic Joe Biden for a second consecutive term, or Republican Donald Trump. 

In his first term, Joe Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act into law in 2022. This was the most comprehensive climate legislation ever passed in the US and included nearly $370 billion of investments aimed towards renewable energy infrastructure and an economically viable, just energy transition. This set a clear tone for encouraging private sector investment, and since 2022, 142 projects have been announced, representing more than $98 billion in investment and more than 80,000 jobs – mostly relating to battery and electric vehicle developments. 

If Biden does win later this year, it is broadly expected that these policies will continue into his second term… However, if Trump wins he has already stated he plans to overhaul the Act, instead choosing to maximise fossil fuel production. In Trump’s first term, he pulled out of The Paris Agreement in 2017, which Biden re-entered on his first day of office and it is expected that if Trump wins, he will  withdraw again. Trump himself has a history of making climate-sceptic remarks and claims, and these quickly turn into sources of misinformation given his following. 

Should Trump win, this would be a big step backwards for global climate efforts, both in America’s reduced climate action, but also in the message it will send to other oil-producing nations who are typically more hesitant to engage in climate action.

European Union

In June, voters in the EU will elect the European Parliament which will be in place for the next 5 years. To date, the EU has been at the forefront of climate action globally, with The European Green Deal launched in 2019. 

The Green Deal is a 30-year action plan focused on the energy transition, circular economy, protecting biodiversity and halting pollution, with the ultimate goal of reaching climate neutrality by 2050. The European Climate Law underwrites the aims of the Green Deal, including the intermediate target of reducing net emissions by 55% before 2030, compared to 1990 emissions.This highlights how critical the next 5 years will be for the bloc to try and reach this target. 

Forecasts for the results of the June election are, however, predicting that the composition of the Parliament will shift to the right, owing to the rise of populist right-wing parties. This could mean a populist right-wing coalition could be the majority in the Parliament for the first time in history, and it would likely oppose ambitious climate action. EU right-wing populist parties have already been trying to turn climate policy into a ‘wedge issue’ – a political issue which sows division in a usually unified group. They have done so by exploiting the recent farmers’ protests against environmental policies as well as framing the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the associated energy insecurity and wider inflationary pressures as a way of framing climate policies as expensive and excessive. 

As these claims ratchet up in the run-up to the election in June, the likelihood of dis- and misinformation spreading will accordingly increase. An exemplary action the EU has taken to combat this is its new Digital Services Act. This targets major online platforms including Facebook and TikTok to increase their efforts to fight the spread of false information as well as bot activity. Failure to do so can mean fines of up to 6% of a firm’s annual global revenue. 

United Kingdom 

The UK is set to go to the polls this year in both its local and general elections – although the date for the latter is yet to be set by the Government. Current polls suggest the Labour Party is on course for a large-scale victory. Meanwhile the Conservative party, which has been in power for the last 14 years, is currently polling at their lowest point since at least 1978.

Last year, Labour seemed to be etching their position as an ambitious, climate-focused party with £28 billion a year of additional capital expenditure pledged to meet the UK’s net zero target, should they win the election. They also had a strong presence at COP28, which indicated that the party’s intention, should it win the election, was to take a strong stance on climate action and net zero policies. This also showed a strong understanding that national climate policy must form part of a wider global effort to tackle climate change. 

However, in early February 2024, Labour rolled back on its £28 billion pledge. It says it still aims to decarbonise our electricity networks by 2030 but it is unclear how it will achieve this. This has sent negative messaging to other countries, about the UK’s future commitment to decarbonisation, as well as to investors and renewable energy companies. 

An entrance to a British polling station. Image via unsplash.

Meanwhile, the Conservative Party has ‘weaponised’ climate issues by enflaming the discontent around driving restrictions and boiler replacement. While the Conservatives’ polling is at an all time low, the Reform UK party (a rebranding of the right-wing Brexit party) has achieved its highest ever poll.

Reform UK is an outwardly climate-sceptic party which campaigns against net zero measures. This could spell trouble for the election as scepticism about net zero may form part of national campaigning efforts, particularly if the Conservatives feel threatened by Reform UK, as the polls indicate. Voters in the UK should therefore be attuned to mis- and disinformation on climate policies.

At a time when climate action in both the US and EU wobbles on a precipice, the UK’s Labour Party (given its strong polling) should seize the opportunity to take a strong stance on climate policies to put the UK in a strong, agenda-leading position on climate change, encouraging both investment and development. 

So, what does this all mean?

In the run-up to elections, politicians typically focus on national debates to appeal to voters which sadly means international issues like climate change take a back seat. 

However, we can no longer afford to think of climate change as some abstract and distant threat that affects other countries. It is something that is happening to all countries, and happening now, with the world’s first year-long breach of the key 1.5-degree celsius warming limit occurring in 2023. 

Let’s hope these will be among the last elections where the main question surrounding climate action isn’t whether or not we should do it, but rather what can be done to improve it.

Be curious! 

Vote! If you live in one of the countries holding an election this year (there are plenty more than just the UK, US and EU!) and are eligible, vote! Research has shown young people are the most distressed about climate change, but election data shows younger people are less likely to vote than older people. Have your say! 

Help stop the spread of climate misinformation. Have a read of this article which details how to be a careful consumer of information and identify ‘fake news’. 

If you live in the UK, this is a good resource detailing how to get in touch with your local MP about climate change and let them know you care! The more MPs feel climate is important to their constituents, the more pressure they will feel to act in favour of climate action.

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