Are These Heads Of State Keeping Their Climate Promises? - The Years Project

Are These Heads Of State Keeping Their Climate Promises?

By Vishva Bhatt

As the climate has been heating up, so has the debate and discussion about climate change. Evidenced by the recent focus on climate change in the U.S. 2020 Presidential race, the issue of fixing Earth’s ailing climate has become a top priority Democratic voters. A similar movement is taking place all around the world, as political leaders are making monumental decisions on how to address or ignore the climate crisis. In recent elections, many leaders around the world have been voted into office in part due to their progressive stance on climate change. However, once they are elected, most political leaders aren’t held accountable for the promises they made during their campaigns. Tracking legislation, environmental progress, and public opinion allow careful examination into whether or not the world’s top politicians have followed through on their green promises. 

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Justin Trudeau
Narendra Modi
Emmanuel Macron

Justin Trudeau

Photo: Flickr/Adam Scotti

In 2015, a young, progressive leader announced his bid for Prime Minister of Canada. Justin Trudeau seemed to be a beacon of hope for climate activists, as he highlighted green communities and climate change amongst the top priorities for his campaign. After winning his bid for Prime Minister, Trudeau began a number of projects working towards a cleaner, greener Canada. Little more than a month into Trudeau’s prime ministership, he attended the Paris Climate Accords and signed the monumental agreement that marked a significant international turning-point in the fight against climate change. Prior to attending the Paris Accords, Trudeau pledged to establish a pan-Canadian framework to combat climate change; Trudeau followed through on his promise and released the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change. The framework outlines goals that include putting a price on carbon pollution, reducing carbon emissions, and developing a plan for climate adaptation and resilience. While the framework addresses a myriad of topics, it fails to detail a clear plan for achieving any of its goals. Nonetheless, Trudeau’s vigor to establish a nation-wide framework put him steps ahead of most other world leaders, who had yet to take any significant action beyond the Paris Accords on climate change.   

However, Trudeau’s progress in Canada faces being overshadowed by his failure to follow through on several other environmental promises, and his approval of projects that further degrade the climate. During his campaign, Trudeau promised voters that if elected his administration would fulfill the country’s commitment at the G20, and “phase out subsidies for the fossil fuel industry.” Instead, Trudeau’s administration locked in a natural gas subsidy until 2025, allowing fossil fuel companies to dominate and prosper in the energy industry. Regardless of how many pledges to fix the climate are signed, without significant tangible action to cut the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere, climate change cannot be adequately addressed. In addition to approving fossil fuel subsidies for Big Oil, Trudeau approved the controversial Trans Mountain Project, an oil pipeline expansion. The pipeline encroaches on Indigenous lands and has been entirely condemned by environmental groups. The pipeline contradicts the Prime Minister’s promise to transition Canada to a green economy and breaks Trudeau’s pledge to be a world leader in mitigating climate change. 

Trudeau framed the contradicting environmental actions as a compromise, but with less than 11 years to stop the irreversible effects of climate change, there is no time to compromise on climate. Any action that isn’t working towards stopping climate change, is an action that is worsening the climate crisis. Trudeau ran a campaign on the promise of environmental progress and a transition towards a green economy, and his first few months in office proved monumental for Canada’s advancement towards a cleaner future. However, his achievements have started to pale in comparison to his environmental failures. Trudeau approved multiple projects that contribute more to climate change, rather than working towards solving it. 

Narendra Modi 


Mirroring the rise of other populist leaders around the world, Narendra Modi has captured hearts and electoral votes across India, winning him two back-to-back monumental elections in the world’s second most populated country. With an ever-growing population, India is responsible for more than 7% of the world’s fossil fuel CO₂ emissions. Air pollution, heat waves, and flooding plague communities across India as climate change further exacerbates challenges across the country. Among other things, Modi promised his voters environmental reform to help fight the immediate challenges, as well as the long-term ones such as climate change. Modi vowed to adopt cleaner practices to make India a greener country through legislation and sustainable development. 

While Modi’s track record, which shows that he failed to implement the Forest Rights Act 2006 and little environmentally friendly legislation, as Prime Minister, Modi has stated that he will work to “make this planet a better place to live.” He has taken action towards reforming India’s large environmental footprint, and took the monumental step of eliminating all single-use plastic across the country by 2022. Additionally, Modi has attempted to mobilize countries across the world, by bringing India’s plan to eliminate all single-use plastics by 2022 to the United Nations, arguing that “the choices [leaders] make today will define our collective future.” In recognition for his efforts to make India a greener, cleaner country, Modi was awarded the UN’s “Champion of the Earth Award,” alongside French President Macron. 

Modi pledged that by 2022, India will produce 175 gigawatts of renewable energy. India has been making progress on this pledge, as the country has doubled its wind and solar capacity since 2014. However, it is forecasted that Modi will be unable to achieve his goal, as the country will fall short of the renewable energy target. Without a continued effort to reach this goal, and a conscious effort by Modi to promote his green plans, the country won’t meet the renewable energy goal it has set. While Modi has made hefty promises, he has also supported some less-than green legislation. Modi’s administration replaced a 2011 zoning regulation with a new 2018 version that opens up India’s coastline to heavy infrastructure development for the real estate sector, threatening coastal ecology and further harming the already-sensitive coastal communities. Alarmingly, the World Health Organization stated that 11 out of the 12 most polluted cities in the world are in India, with air pollution being the fifth largest killer, and Modi has done little to combat this. Modi’s National Clean Air Program does not specify any actual targets for reducing air pollution, even when the government had earlier stated that it was planning to set a goal to reduce 50% of air pollution in 5 years. 

Though Modi has preached that “it is the duty of each one of us to ensure that material prosperity does not compromise our environment,” mitigating climate change has not found a spot amongst his top priorities. India is one of the world’s largest contributors to climate change, and with a growing population, what path India takes in the next four years of Modi’s term will play a role in determining the future of not just the country, but the world. 

Emmanuel Macron

Photo: Flickr/ ©FNMF/N. MERGUI 

Emmanuel Macron stepped into the political scene as an outsider; he competed for the highest political office in France never having run for election before. Macron won his bid for the French presidency in 2017, as the youngest French head of state since Napoleon. He branded himself a candidate of the people, a President for neither the left nor the right. President Macron has placed a strong emphasis on climate change, calling it a “red line issue”, and indicating that the damage to the environment is unacceptable and his administration will address it seriously. Little more than a month into his Presidency, Macron met with former California Governor and long-time climate activist, Arnold Schwarzenegger, to discuss climate change. The French President stated he would work to “make the planet great again.” Macron’s meeting with Schwarzenegger left climate activists hopeful that France would become a leader in helping fight climate change. At the One Planet Summit, which is a conference that aims to bring together public and private actors in the fight against climate change, Macron announced that the European Union needed to establish a carbon price floor. A price floor for carbon would greatly reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere, and force countries to take action on climate change. While the EU may not have adopted Macron’s suggestion, the French government has introduced a climate bill that would commit the country to carbon-neutrality by 2050. Macron has made progress on is his commitment to triple the amount of wind energy and increase the amount of solar energy by five times by 2030. In 2018, France added 1.5 gigawatts of wind power capacity, meeting its annual goal. Solar power nearly met its target of 10 gigawatts. If France continues to make progress on this pledge, it will demonstrate the power of political promises on climate change. 

Macron also pledged to create a fund to renovate public and private buildings, especially targeting poorly insulated buildings and disadvantaged households. However, a 2013 survey indicated that to reach France’s goal, they would need to increase the pace of renovations to two times the original target. While the project would help to improve the environmental progress of the country, it is currently not on track to be accomplished in the time or in the manner originally suggested. Macron has not altered his approach, nor his agenda in regards to the currently-unsuccessful infrastructure project, which hampers the country’s environmental progress. Additionally, President Macron has stopped pushing for environmental reform as a key component of his Presidency and has begun to stray from his initial environmental advocacy as he focuses on economic growth and attempts to deal with the rising unrest across the country. 

Macron has insisted that “there is no greater return on investment than a healthy planet,” and has found some success in environmental legislation across France. However, in order to accomplish his hefty goals, the French President must ramp up progress on the myriad of projects he has committed to. For Macron, the question remains: is it better to aim high but not entirely fulfill those goals, or does he have the responsibility of setting achievable goals that show the rest of the world progress is achievable? 

Progress on Promises 

Leaders across the world are campaigning on their solutions to mitigate climate change, but the demands of office often cause politicians to stray from their green agendas. With less than 10 years to prevent climate change’s irreversible impacts, making promises or pledges without following through on them is no longer a viable option. Politicians, especially those occupying the world’s highest offices, need to be held accountable, and it’s the people who have the power to do so. In most countries around the world, politicians respond to pressure from the people, and public opinion can help sway world leaders in the direction that is best for the people and the planet. To make a difference you can vote, protest, sign pledges, or donate to organizations that lobby high-ranking officials to pass climate change legislation. Your voice matters, and it’s #TimeToVoteOnClimate