The Economist has described 2024 as “the biggest election year in history”, as billions of people around the world go to the polls in national elections. But what does this vast democratic exercise, and the potential for such widespread political change, mean for progress towards climate and nature goals?

Despite an ever-growing awareness of climate change, its causes and effects, elections can see long-term vision and strategy sacrificed at the altar of short-term vote-winning tactics.

Critical polls in the UK, the EU and the US, amongst many others, are set to be no different with climate goals battling for space with international conflicts and a host of social and cultural ‘wedge’ issues.

Even in the face of these challenges, real progress is being made, albeit at a frustratingly slow rate. The language of the final agreement at COP28 called on countries to transition away from fossil fuels – the first time this has happened at a COP summit. Add to this the IEA reporting that the world added 510 gigawatts of renewable power capacity in 2023 - an extraordinary 50% growth on the previous year – and the positive trajectory of climate action is hard to deny. With investment in renewables and clean tech solutions set to increase, the hope is that industry will continue to develop the low carbon energy solutions that will be vital to long-term success.

For policymakers, there is a need to strike a balance between encouraging the development of clean technologies through incentivising investment, and creating regulatory environments that facilitate the progress that is required while ensuring high safety and procurement standards.

In the UK, where reaching Net Zero by 2050 is written into law, political point-scoring, focused on how the cost of decarbonisation will be borne by voters, has seen a recent slowing of the government’s climate plans. Labour, challenging to take power at the next election, has set out an ambitious agenda including the creation of a national energy company, Great British Energy, but a large spending pledge has drawn criticism and forced the party to incrementally soften its position.

The partisan divide on climate action is clear both here in the UK and in the US, where any excuse for a cultural wedge issue is exploited mercilessly by political leaders.

With Donald Trump thrashing his opponents in Iowa this week, a November showdown with Joe Biden is on the cards. The current president is unpopular, largely due to his age, and is proving unable to capitalise on his part in the US economy out-performing expectations. Don’t be surprised if, a year from today, we’re on the eve of a second Trump inauguration.

A second Trump presidency will at least as controversial as his first, on climate issues as much as anything else. Republicans are already drawing up comprehensive plans to roll back climate policies, from blocking the scale-up of renewable energy to defunding climate programmes, with an intention to eradicate much of the framework set up by the Inflation Reduction Act.

Across Europe, too, the far right is enjoying a resurgence, and with elections set for June its progress is threatening the EU’s green revolution. The EU has led the world in shaping legislation that targets deep emissions cuts, reduces pollution and helps combat deforestation. A tipping of the political balance might mean a retreat from that climate leadership role, which would have broader international impacts.

Globally, though, climate action still has strong momentum. The recent adoption of the Global Biodiversity Framework, which will force business and governments alike to make positive progress on nature preservation, serves as a reminder that climate and nature action go hand in hand.

All of this makes COP30, which will be held in the Amazon city of Belen in 2025, the next big moment in climate diplomacy. This in addition to Brazil’s hosting of the G20, meaning the world will be watching Lula’s administration with a hope that climate leadership forms a big part of its narrative.

While the Azerbaijan capital, Baku, will host COP29 this year, there is a general acknowledgement that this iteration will be a bit of a damp squib, not helped by the challenge of convincing the world of the credibility of a petro-state running climate negotiations.

Despite the uncertainty that comes with such a raft of elections, those who want to survive and thrive in the long-term should ignore the short-term noise around elections. Collaboration and cross-sector partnerships, including with competitors, will drive positive action – something increasingly recognised by employees and customers alike. In a global transition, there is abundant opportunity for businesses and organisations who propose long-term solutions during what might well be a politically tumultuous year.