6 elections to watch before Paris climate summit

A shift in public mood at the ballot box can boot out climate laggards or propel them to power. Here are six on the radar from Canada to Myanmar

Officials audit ballot boxes in Afghanistan's 2014 election (Flickr/ UNAMA)

Officials audit ballot boxes in Afghanistan’s 2014 election (Flickr/ UNAMA)

By Alex Pashley

The election cycle never ends.

Ahead of a decisive climate conference in seven weeks’ time, these are the countries set to elect governments and legislatures. Unpicking long-crafted stances might be dangerous, but not impossible.

What bearing could the shuffling of top national posts have  on UN climate talks?

1. Canada – 19 October

Fort McMurray, Alberta (Flickr/ Kris Krug)

Fort McMurray, Alberta. Canada is a major emitter with tar sands making up a chunk (Flickr/ Kris Krug)

Liberal party challenger Justin Trudeau is neck and neck with incumbent prime minister Steven Harper in the polls. Environmentalists are watching the race eagerly, hoping the result might herald some pro-climate policies, including to slash emissions from the country’s dirty tar sands.

Two-term Conservative leader Harper has blocked green reforms, says Ontario premier Kathleen Wynee, with her province leading the charge to defy Ottawa.

Trudeau has promised to link up all provinces and territories with carbon taxes, while his party platform includes support for a fossil fuel subsidy phase-out and is open to joining a North American clean energy agreement with Mexico and the US.

2. Poland – 25 October

(Pic: Prawo i Sprawiedliwość/Flickr)

Duda won an election in May, heralding a return to power for Poland’s right (tk) (Pic: Prawo i Sprawiedliwość/Flickr)

Favourites the Law and Justice (PiS) party have vowed to shore up Poland’s ageing coal industry and defy EU climate policies. President Andrzej Duda, who was elected in May, campaigned on a similar platform to protect those who haven’t enjoyed the spoils of years of strong growth.

Government figures have hit back, saying Poland would end up marginalised in Europe. Some analysts dismiss PiS pro-coal rhetoric as empty bluster, with key EU decisions long decided. Duda has already tracked back since winning power, passing clean air regulations for local authorities.

But how to salvage the country’s tottering mining companies is “the hot potato no one wants to touch,” says Julia Michalak at think tank Demos Europa.

3. Argentina – 25 October

(Flickr/ Argentine Culture Ministry)

Argentine president Christina Kirchner in 2014 (Flickr/ Argentine Culture Ministry)

The end of the kirchnerismo project is nigh as President Cristina Kirchner’s protégé Daniel Scioli takes on Mauricio Macri to govern South America’s third-largest economy.

Argentina has pledged to cut emissions at least 15% by 2030, though NGOs said the target’s reliance on existing policies was deceiving.

Scioli has labelled climate change the South American country’s “main enemy”, but candidates are said to have touched little on the subject on the campaign trail.

Argentina is a G20 member and promised to phase out fossil fuel subsidies in the medium term. A November conference may demand more strenuous actions. A second round is slated for 22 November, should no clear winner emerge.

4. Turkey – 1 November 

Yenikoy Open Pit Coal Mine, Milas (credit: wikimedia commons)

Yenikoy Open Pit Coal Mine, Milas (credit: wikimedia commons)

Turkey’s general election will go ahead in a fraught climate, after a deadly bomb attack killed 128 people in capital Ankara last Saturday.

Fiercely ambivalent on climate policy, president Recep Erdogan hopes to broaden support for his AK party after an inconclusive result in June. Don’t expect a change of tack in Paris.

The country is backing fossil fuel development, with a series of coal-fired power plants in the pipeline. Emissions have rocketed 110% between 1990 and 2013, and its pledge to the UN foresees that trend accelerating.

It hosting of the next G20  meeting in November will put the government under a lens, but isn’t expected to reverse dirty policy.

5. Myanmar – 8 November

Mystic temples of Bagan, just before sunrise. Bagan, Myanmar (Flickr/ KX Studio)

Mystic temples of Bagan, just before sunrise. Bagan, Myanmar (Flickr/ KX Studio)

Could Myanmar’s first relatively free and fair election in 50 years be a new spring for the country’s international engagement? Analysts say Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy could well win a majority, shaking up the Asian country’s politics after military rule ended in 2011.

Myanmar is a blank slate for energy, with the government locked in debate over which direction to take. There is hope for solar, but an expansion of coal-fired power plants is assured to widen electricity access to the two out of three Burmese that lack it. The country lags as one of the worst for deforestation, according to the UN. What would effect would an NLD victory have on a cleaner energy future?

6. Marshall Islands – 16 November 

Laura beach in the Marshall Islands (Pic: Stefan Lins/Flickr)

Laura beach in the Marshall Islands (Pic: Stefan Lins/Flickr)

The low-lying country of 24 atolls in the Pacific ocean has an outsized voice in UN talks given its vulnerability to sea-level rise and storms.

Foreign minister Tony de Brum has used that as his bully pulpit to campaign for more robust climate action. The island state came up with a bullish plan to cut emissions and boost renewables in July.

The senator has labelled climate change migration “genocide” and lambasted the UN’s shipping body chief over slow progress to curb maritime emissions. But like any politician, he must win re-election to the Nitijela parliament in capital Majuro. Polling data is not readily available.

Holding major emitters to account has bipartisan support in the Marshall Islands and the new government wont take office until next year after the Paris summit. But small islands states would lose a giant if de Brum did not win back his seat.

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