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While the world’s attention (including mine) is well and truly fixated on US President Trump and his acceleration into fascism,  there are a number of elections that may have just as big an impact on 2017. 

Believe it or not, your calendars are going to be critical this year, and may even be in for some more anti-immigration and anti-climate change scares. With the world still coming to terms with the ripples of right-wing stones thrown at the glass-towers of democracy last year, get ready for what what may be an era of Conservative, Twitter-addicted leaders across the Netherlands and France.

In their wake, the world may look to Africa for signs of Democratic hope, as Kenya, Liberia, Angola, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo are all set to go to the polls. Don’t expect change across the continent, as Kenya, Angola and Rwanda look set to maintain entrenched ruling regimes. 

Supporters of Raila Odinga are pictured here traveling home after a major rally in Kisumu town before the elections last 2013. Will Boase / AFP - Getty Images

Supporters of Raila Odinga are pictured here traveling home after a major rally in Kisumu town before the elections last 2013. Will Boase / AFP – Getty Images

However, democratic newcomers Libera and the Democratic Republic of Congo look promising, even uplifting. Liberia will looking to maintain their Nobel Prize winning democratic tradition, and the DRC could be set for the country’s first peaceful election process since independence. Many consider war-torn the country to be home to see of the most vast and biodiverse rainforests around the world, and stable democracy could not only bring an end to decades of civil war, but the worlds biggest illegal logging, mining and poaching regimes.

Later in the year, Climate campaigners will surely turn to Asia, where key elections are expected in China, South Korea and Thailand (lets hope).  While we won’t see a change at the very top, China is set to elect its next generation of leaders, with 14 of 25 key leadership positions to be decided by Party Elites. South Korea will be the next focus, as former UN secretary General Ban Ki Moon could dramatically shift his country’s stance on Climate Change. 

Finally, Thailand should be heading for elections according to the Military Leadership’s own timeline. But there are few signs as of yet they will fulfil their country’s expectations. 

Regardless, as your sweat glands melt in fits of Trumped-up-Anxiety, be sure to ready your support for friends and Climate campaigners around the world, as some of the world’s biggest Forests, Oil producers, Coal consumers, and leaders in Renewables are set to make some big political changes this year. 

For some more information on the key elections to watch, I’ve shared my limited insights below: 

March 15 – The Netherlands. 

After the madness of Trump’s first month in office subsides, be sure to turn your attention to the Netherlands. As one of the world’s leaders in adaptation, coastal erosion, offshore wind technology and one of the biggest per-capita funders of climate adaptation in developing countries, there are plenty of reasons to be nervous about their upcoming general election.

Geert Wilders is leading the polls in the Netherlands.  Photo from We Are Change

Geert Wilders is leading the polls in the Netherlands. Photo from We Are Change


Right now, the leader in the polls is Geert Wilders. Good-ol Geert has been one of the most prominent anti-immigration, anti-EU and anti-Islam figures for the best part of the last decade. For a country that once boasted the highest Greenpeace memberships per-capita, this would be a big step back for progressives and climate campaigners in the region. 

Not only would Geert Wilders add strength to the anti-EU wave, but doing so could put climate targets at risk across the continent. It is expected that rival parties on the left will try to band together to offer a united alternative candidate, such as has been seen in Austria and France over the last few years. Will it be enough to slow the populist wave sweeping across rural Netherlands. 

April 23 & May 7 – France

Change is definitely coming to the French Republic, as incumbent President Holland has decided that his 3% public approval rating is enough of a signal that he shouldn’t run again. 

In his place, Trump’s ideological doppleganger Marine Le Pen is rising in the polls. In the wake of Brexit, Le Pen congratulated the British people for standing against the “totalitarian EU, that prison of people”. Her most fearsome contender on the Right, was Francois Fillon. Fillon was many pundit’s favourite choice up until last week but after new revelations that he was siphoning millions to his wife and children. Now, Le Pen’s biggest opposition may come from former Economy minister, Emmanuel Macron. 

Marine Le Pen, exultant National Front candidate Photograph by Francois Guillot/AFP/Getty Images

Marine Le Pen, exultant National Front candidate Photograph by Francois Guillot/AFP/Getty Images

While France’s nuclear dependancy means that Le Penn cannot have the same holistic impact on the country’s energy sector, her promise to pull out of the EU certainly puts its collective Climate targets in jeopardy. In contrast, Macron has offered sanctuary to American scientists working on climate change and renewable energy who fear for their livelihoods.

In a thinly veiled jab at Trump, Macron exclaimed that; “‘I want all those who today embody innovation and excellence in the United States to hear what we say: from now on, from next May, you will have a new homeland, France”.

Due to the number of competing parties in France, they have 2 voting rounds to decide their election. Think of it as a regular season and The Grand Final. After the first round, the top 2 options are selected to run in the final round. According to local pollsters, Le Penn is a sure bet to make it to the Final on May 7. 

However, in 2015 France was in a similar position when it came to their regional elections. Le Penn’s party (add name) was way ahead after round 1. In the 2 weeks before the Final, the parties on the left and centre came together, threw their collective weight behind individual candidates and Le Penn’s party was easily beaten. Expect the same tactic to come out, but look forward to a nervous 2 weeks full of fear-mongering media coverage. 

May 19 – Iran

If you didn’t know anything else about Iran, you probably know that Trump unfortunately has the Middle Eastern nation in his sights. However, from a Climate perspective you should know that it controls over 13% of global oil reserves. As a result, it is a critical country for anyone hoping that the world might be able to transition away from Fossil Fuels, and avoid a Trump-led global disaster.

Right now, relations with the US and ongoing criticism over the Nuclear deal (from Iran’s side) look set to dictate the campaign. On Jan. 17, Iran’s incumbent President Hassan Rouhani held a press conference marking 1 year from the signing of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with then President Obama.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (L), U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz (2nd L), Head of the Iranian Atomic Energy Organisation Ali Akbar Salehi (2nd R) and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif (R) wait with others ahead of a meeting at the Beau Rivage Palace Hotel in Lausanne on March 26, 2015 during negotiations on the Iranian nuclear programme. REUTERS/Brendan Smialowski/Pool - RTR4UXKJ

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (L), U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz (2nd L), Head of the Iranian Atomic Energy Organisation Ali Akbar Salehi (2nd R) and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif (R) wait with others ahead of a meeting at the Beau Rivage Palace Hotel in Lausanne on March 26, 2015 during negotiations on the Iranian nuclear programme. REUTERS/Brendan Smialowski/Pool – RTR4UXKJ

Due to internal criticisms, opposition parties look set to pounce, and even the President’s own party is currently considering alternatives. 

Whatever happens, you can be sure that much of the world’s geopolitical landscape will have shifted dramatically before we reach the half-way point in the year. 

October/November – China 

When the Chinese leadership shifts its ranks, expect a LOT of patronising news coverage trying to explain Chinese Politics. Basically, be sure to pick your publications wisely. 

Sometime in late October or early November, China is going to go through possibly the world’s biggest political shift of the year. Though they won’t be changing their General Secretary or Premier. As the world’s biggest Economy, Consumer and Carbon Emitter, they don’t have to change their top job for the whole world to take notice. 

Xi Jinping at the UNFCCC COP 21 in Paris last 2015. Photo from UN climate change Flickr

Xi Jinping at the UNFCCC COP 21 in Paris last 2015. Photo from UN climate change Flickr


What will happen, is much of the top leadership that advises Xi Jinping and 
Li Keying will shift. In an internal Party vote, 5 out of 7 Politburo standing Committee and 9 out of 18 Politburo members are set to change. This means that in the top 2 tiers of government, we’re going to see 14 of 25 key leadership positions change. 

If you want to compare it to the US system (which is basically impossible) imagine that 50% of the country’s Cabinet Ministers were set for a reshuffle. The newly elected Cabinet ministers will be responsible for fulfilling the current 5 year plan, navigating relations with Trump, and setting out what the world’s biggest economy from 2020 on. If they set China on course for further enhancing the policy platform of “ecological civilisation” we could be in for a big boost to Climate hopefuls around the world. 

Other Key Elections

As mentioned before, these aren’t the only big elections happening this year. There is potential for seismic shifts in South Korea, Liberia and the DRC. There are also big decisions to be made in Angola, Kenya, Rwanda and Thailand, all countries where the pillars of democracy has had a solid shake over the last few years. Many of them for the worse. 

Predicting the results of the above elections is going to be incredibly difficult. With a wave of Social Media-fuelled populism sweeping the world, expect pundits to continue to be proven wrong. But with some of the world’s biggest environmental decision makers set for elections, be sure to save your energy for the year ahead. 

About Chris Wright