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A Political Tipping Point for Climate?

April 2024 by Sarah Davies

Image credit: Arnaud Jaegers via Unsplash

The year of elections

In 2024, four billion people, spanning over 40+ countries will exercise their democratic right to vote. Some of the world’s biggest emitters such as the USA and India will take to the polls, and as we wait for our own election here in the UK, it’s worth reflecting on not only the magnitude of the opportunity that presents itself when nearly half the global population are being invited to mark their ballot paper this year, but also on the pivotal moment that we as humanity face in terms of our evolution in the climate crisis.

Whoever is elected to power this year will have significant opportunities to implement meaningful legislation, demonstrate visionary leadership and lead the transition to a zero-carbon world. Could this year be a tipping point when we collectively vote NO to business as usual, instead demanding decisive climate action? One thing is certain, the New York Times argues, results of the elections “will affect how the world is run for decades to come.”

Huge numbers of the global population are concerned about the climate crisis, and we know that the time for action is now. Former UK Chief Scientist Sir David King stated: ‘“What we do over the next three to four years, I believe, is going to determine the future of humanity. We are in a very very desperate situation.” 2023 was the hottest year on record, and we breached the 1.5 degrees of warming threshold that signatories of the Paris Accord agreed to keep within for the first time. And yet, global emissions continue to rise.

Climate on the ballot

Perhaps we’ve either seen or have lived experience of the effects that 1.5 degrees of warming over pre-industrial levels is having on our world: Increased frequency and severity of extreme weather such as storms, flooding, heatwaves and droughts, resulting in displaced people and communities; An end to predictable weather patterns supporting our ability to grow and cultivate food; Increased conflict over resources. It’s hard to imagine what will happen If our emissions continue to rise. We need to act now, and whilst individually we can all do our bit, we also need strong, visionary political leadership to inspire and take decisive action which will ensure significant carbon-reducing action is taken at a national and international level.

Governments have the power to regulate and incentivise industries and organisations. They can change tax subsidies so that rather than subsidising polluting industries such as coal, oil, gas and animal agriculture, they instead subsidise clean energy, making it easier for everyone to adopt environmentally friendly solutions. This would mean that our individual efforts are not stymied by structural limitations, but supported, helping rather than hindering us and the organisations we’re part of to make changes that are greener and more sustainable.

International elections


In the UK, the battle lines are being drawn between the Conservative Party and Labour. The Conservatives have rowed back on a number of green commitments, blaming a backdrop of a cost-of-living crisis, inflation and a stagnant economy and have reduced climate change to a culture war issue. Claiming that the cost of investment in green industries and technologies is an economic burden that Britain can’t afford not only delays progress and puts us behind other countries but also denies the opportunity for a green transition, which would provide green jobs and a major economic boost. Delaying the green transition will inevitably cost more in the long run economically and ecologically whilst simultaneously subjecting people to risk from extreme weather events. The Labour Party are more supportive of green policy and action for climate, however, they have rowed back on their £28bn a year Green Prosperity plan to a modest £4.8bn a year. Given that the Conservatives are so far behind in the polls suggests that people want something different.


Many fear that a return to a Trump administration in America could take us backwards as Trump insists that he’ll ‘drill baby drill’ and many fear America will pull out of the Paris Agreement, sending a dangerous signal to the rest of the world. This is in sharp contrast to the Biden administration, one of their first actions was to take America back into the Paris Agreement and to commit to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 52% from 2005 levels by 2030. Under Biden, the Inflation Reduction Act was signed into law in August 2022 which invests hundreds of billions of dollars in clean energy, electric vehicles and environmental justice. These ambitious plans need an administration to continue to implement them and deliver climate justice.

As two countries that have built their wealth on fossil fuel exploitation, it is imperative that the UK and the US take decisive action to lower emissions. The historical legacy enabled by colonialist structures and perpetuated through the Industrial Revolution has led to enormous carbon footprints for both countries, and their decarbonisation will ensure a more just and equitable transition globally. As Kara Anderson puts it, “It’s about recognising that our local choices have global consequences, especially for those in climate-vulnerable areas who face the brunt of our actions (or inactions)”.


India, a highly climate-vulnerable country, is committed to net zero by 2070. Whilst it’s the third biggest emitter globally, it is home to 1.4 billion people, meaning its per capita emissions are less than one-seventh of those of the United States. It’s wind and solar power capacity has almost doubled over the past 5 years. However, a key priority for the election campaign is energy security and as an economically developing nation, the demand is high, meaning that whilst it pushes ahead with renewable, clean energy projects, a rise in energy derived from fossil fuels and a reliance on coal is expected in the short term. Whilst the climate is not a campaign talking point for the upcoming election, it is expected that whichever party wins the election, will continue to push for both renewables and coal as policy isn’t dependent on who is in power.

European Union

Citizens from 27 countries will elect 720 politicians to the European Parliament in June. Those elected will stay in post for five years. The EU has historically demonstrated strong climate leadership, but with polling indicating a move towards parties on the right, there is the potential to delay urgent measures as for most far-right parties, climate change is not a priority. Last month we saw the EU dilute its green measures following the protests by farmers, However, whilst this is cause for concern, opinion polls analysed by Reuters suggest far-right lawmakers, who oppose Green Deal policies, will grow in number but remain a minority.

Vote for climate action

It’s important to know where we are and how much our choices matter. The elections this year invite us to reflect on the importance of exercising our democratic right to vote as not everyone, everywhere is afforded this right. History has continued to demonstrate that not all elections are fair or free, voting in some countries can be tokenistic with no real choice.

2024, could be the year that changes everything, as whoever wins the next elections ultimately has the power to determine if and how we make the green transition urgently needed. Imagine a world, with newly elected leaders committed to climate action and transforming society, our lives could be vastly improved with clean water, clean air, clean energy, a green economy, green jobs, social justice and equity. If you have the opportunity to vote this year, pay particular attention to the candidates’ climate policies, and remember that voting for the climate is one of the most important climate actions we can all take.

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