Year 2024: Hottest elections trapped in triple crisis

Leaders ought to use elections to tackle climate crisis



March 25, 2024

/ By / New Delhi

Year 2024: Hottest elections trapped in triple crisis

Climate discussions need to move beyond meetings like COP28 in Dubai (above) to electoral campaigns (Photo: Media India Group)

With over 4.1 billion people likely to turn out to vote this year in elections in 76 nations across the world, including three of the largest democracies, India, the year 2024 presents a unique opportunity for the world leaders to put climate change on top of their manifestos and electoral speeches. But so far, climate crisis has remained absent from political discourses.

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The year 2024 is all about voting. As many as 76 of the 196 countries in the world will be engaged in  the national elections in which people citizens across the world will decide who will govern them for next few years. The elections, called festivals of democracy, are spread throughout the year and throughout the world. While a few countries, notably Pakistan, Taiwan, Russia, Portugal and Finland have already conducted their elections, by the time the year is out, over 4.1 billion people residing in these 76 countries would have voted.

A string of major elections are coming up in the next few months, starting with the massive Indian elections, as the world’s largest democracy, begins the most important test of democracy in a prolonged exercise that starts on April 19 and runs through until June 4 when the counting of votes will happen. Through these 8 weeks, a record for elections anywhere, nearly 1 billion voters, another record, would have or should have exercised their Constitutional right and duty.

As the winners of Indian elections would be celebrating, voters in the European Union would head to polls to choose their own Members of European Parliament, a body which has become increasingly powerful over the past few years. And to round up the year, the much-anticipated battle between the Republicans and the Democrats would get underway as former President Donald Trump challenges incumbent Joe Biden for the White House on November 8.

Unfortunately this festival comes with its own chaotic fire-works and even hazardous mind-games. Inherent hazards of harsh words, luring speeches and hard fought debates have already exposed the compulsive campaigns and laid in open the a world that is highly divided politically, with extremism on both, the left and right side of political views. In electoral campaigns, increasing use of violent language and now technological deepfakes have made this carnival a race for grabbing the voters and their votes by belittling  the opposition candidates.

National elections anywhere in the world have always been inherently messy and frenzy. Optimist with positivity say that it is the exercise of making a choice for ‘people-oriented governance’ . On the other hand negativity  proclaims that these elections expose exactly how helpless and perilous democracies can be.

While all these views have their own assumptions, the key question is do these  elections have the capacity to bring about a real change in terms of the transformation needed to tackle the burning issues related to degradation of nature on which the entire world, the leaders and the voters and all of us, depend to survive?

Being the largest country in terms of population of over 1.45 billion people, of course the largest elections are being held for electing 543 members of the Lok Sabha, the lower house of the Parliament, which are held every five years.

The underlying issues before the voters in India are related to a triple crisis, a social crisis involving unemployment and harmony between followers of various sects, castes and religions, an economic crisis with rising prices, poverty and inequality and the third crisis of ideology that decides the policies and approach of the government elected. One does not need to be an economist or a sociologist to know that these three crises are deeply inter-connected.

But besides these three significant crises or battles, there is another parallel triple crisis looming large on the future of present and future generations, not just in India but in all other countries. United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres says that loss of biodiversity, climate change and pollution are the three crises that are threatening the very existence of people on our planet. It is now recognised that these triple crises are also closely linked to each other. For example, plastic and air pollution is linked to use of fossil fuel that in turn is linked to carbon emission and climate change. The worst dilemma in 2024, which is a historic year for democratic elections, is also a historic predicament because these life-threatening triple crises do not appear to be key issues for any of the leaders campaigning in elections.

The parallel crises

Year 2024 is not just a record-breaking year in terms of numbers of the voters in the history of mankind, but it is also the year that is likely to break the record as hottest year.  Already, 2023 was confirmed to be the hottest since the temperature records began. The Paris Climate Agreement of 2015 drew a red-line of 1.5°C rise in temperature of the earth above pre-industrial level, beyond which the impacts of climate change would be more frequent, more intense and even irreversible.

Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels reached historic highs last May and are forecast to keep rising in 2024 at a much higher speed. At this rate it is predicted that in next five years, in time for India to have her next national elections, the humanity would be standing on the cliff of disaster and our addiction to fossil fuel would have pushed the globe into a suicidal valley. That will happen above rise of Earth’s temperature beyond 2°C.

Many villages and cities in India are already going dry as 1 billion people are getting ready to vote. Even Bengaluru, the so-called Indian Silicon Valley, is unable to satisfy the thirst with all its prowess of Artificial Intelligence! The widespread digital technology is unable to improve crop-yields of small and large farmers. Pollution continues to severely affect the health. Indeed, the humanity, and entire life on the planet, is standing on thin ice that is not only melting fast, but the rate of melting is accelerating every day. We do not have to wait for the results of elections, we are already running out of time.

Two of the three of the world’s largest carbon emitters, USA and India, are holding their elections this year, while China, the largest, has already chosen its President Xi Jinping for an unprecedented third term. The United States has made some progress in mitigating climate change, but it has not yet fulfilled the promise of finances to the developing countries even under the administration of Joe Biden. And if Trump emerges as the winner in November, then it is almost certain that even the small steps taken by the current administration would be quickly reversed by President Trump and not too long after he gets back into the White House.

Certainly, the European Union, whose members are also amongst the top carbon emitters in the world, has taken several steps over the past decade or so to curb its own emissions as a bloc, but many challenges persist, demonstrated notably through protests by thousands of farmers across the entire EU area over the past few months against climate targets for agriculture. Like all other rich nations, the EU leaders have also failed to honour, their commitments to provide financial assistance to the developing countries.

India leads by actions

In such a situation, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is, beyond doubt, recognised as a global climate leader by the United Nations and international political leaders. Though India has 17 pc of world’s population, its carbon emissions are only about 4 pc of the global emissions and in terms of per capita emissions an average Indian emits less than 14 pc of an average American or under 25 pc of an average European or Chinese citizen. Yet, India has committed to the UN that it would achieve its own net-zero emissions by 2070.

Modi at COP28

Narendra Modi addressing Cop28 in Dubai in December (Photo: Media India Group)


More than promise, Modi has shown that number of his milestone commitments are met ahead of the schedule. For example, 40 pc of electricity generation in India is now from non-fossil fuels, a achieved nine years ahead of the schedule. India’s wind and solar power capacity has doubled over the past five years to 135 GW. Together with hydro, renewables now account for 42 pc of power generation capacity.

The aggressive and accelerated climate action would continue if Modi retains his leadership after the election. Expansion of solar and wind infrastructure, enhanced investment in green hydrogen and electrical vehicles have already been announced in the interim budget passed last month by the Parliament. Subsidies for solar roof tops for 10 million houses of poor families announced last month has already been made operational.

Bring climate to election campaigns

However Modi has not yet found the narrative to convey to voters in clearer terms his committed efforts till now to address the triple crisis of climate change that affects the voters and their children today and the generations that are yet to come. His speeches during election campaigns still do not find the space for narrative of his leadership in climate change. May be he thinks that the climate change issue, though critically important for a safer, better and sustainable lifestyle for Indians and though his actions have made an impact at the UN and international fora, they are not the issues that would win him the elections. And he probably thinks that his subsidies and policies economic issues constitute a much better and safer winning strategy than actions on ecological issues.

Perhaps, he has some global plans in his bag for post-election surprises. Clearly, India’s efforts though lauded by many around the world, would not help in resolving the global climate crisis. It would need Modi’s leadership in forging partnerships at global level like International Solar Alliance that he initiated in 2015 at Paris with the French President Francois Hollande.

That could be yet be another  strategic reason why Modi should continue as leader of India. The task of transitioning away from fossil fuel is becoming increasingly difficult even in India. While renewable energy capacity of India is rising, coal still accounts for three-quarters of electricity generation. Luckily, the costs of renewable energy is falling rapidly. And considering the burden of health cost due to air pollution due to coal-power plants make renewable energy much more viable.

One of the more convincing pitch that Modi has made before the election campaign is about ‘power of youth’  in addressing future challenges like triple crisis and climate change. Indeed, India has demographic advantage and has large proportion of youth population between 18-24 years of age, mainly in higher education institutes. But here, new skills needed to tackle the climate change and achieve net zero have to be imparted to the students. It is not just green skills but accompanying hands-on experience in meeting the accelerated goals of NetZero. But even that pitch is yet to enter into India’s election campaigns.

Such skills must be imparted through out-of-box methods of making institutes’ campuses as living laboratories for NetZero emissions. Many universities and institutes are making a beginning. In this, activities like those of not-for-profit Green Terre Foundation’s global network are catalysing the skilling for NetZero.

A global partnership of youth in universities, in top emitting countries like India, China, USA and EU is urgently needed and ought to be incentivised for climate action in order to address the triple crisis.

While most people around the world get to hear from their leaders almost all of the time and often they lose interest and switch channels on television sets, but elections present a unique opportunity as the attention of voters is particularly focussed on the political discourse of various leaders and their promises and their vision for the country.

But by not focussing on climate change in their campaigns, the political leaders around the world are doing themselves and the world a huge disservice as elections and especially during a year like 2024 offer a unique opportunity to drive home the message of the impending climate disaster and start by laying out how they, along with their citizens, plan to tackle it. Unfortunately, no leader around the world has stepped up to the mantle so far.

Rajendra Shende is a former Director UNEP, Founder Director Green TERRE Foundation, coordinating lead author, IPCC that won Nobel peace prize, IIT Alumnus.



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