9 climate advocates to watch this year

By Robin Bravender | 01/16/2024 01:37 PM EST

Climate champions plan to spend 2024 maximizing impacts of the climate law, prodding President Joe Biden to keep his promises and working to keep Donald Trump out of the White House.

Pictured (clockwise from top left): Leah Donahey (Julie Pixler), Trevor Higgins (Center for American Progress), Dana Johnson (LinkedIn), Shara Mohtadi (Mohtadi), Raúl García (Melissa Lyttle for Earthjustice), Aru Shiney-Ajay (LinkedIn), Lori Lodes (above, Climate Power), Mahyar Sorour (below, LinkedIn), Lena Moffitt (Evergreen).

Clockwise from top left: Leah Donahey, Trevor Higgins, Dana Johnson, Shara Mohtadi, Raúl García, Aru Shiney-Ajay, Lori Lodes, Mahyar Sorour and Lena Moffitt. Melissa Lyttle/Earthjustice (Garcia), LinkedIn, Climate Power, Evergreen, Center for American Progress, Julie Pixler (Donahey)

Last year was the hottest on record. The globe appears likely to breach a goal of keeping temperature rise within 1.5 degrees Celsius. Donald Trump could return to the White House in 2025.

That all has advocates on high alert as 2024 kicks off and climate hawks eye significant efforts to cut emissions domestically and globally as the November presidential election looms.

Climate champions in Washington and elsewhere around the country view 2024 as a critical time to slash emissions, prod the Biden administration to enact ambitious climate policies and motivate climate-focused voters to help keep Trump from returning to office next January.


The next presidential term “will potentially be the last where we can meaningfully make a difference at avoiding the worst of the worst in terms of climate change,” said Lena Moffitt, executive director for Evergreen Action, a climate advocacy nonprofit.

“We have to get many things done before 2030, and these next few years are essential to achieving those goals, and who is in the White House is gonna be obviously very important to that,” she said.

As the high-stakes year kicks off, here are nine climate advocates to keep an eye on:

Aru Shiney-Ajay, executive director at the Sunrise Movement

Shiney-Ajay took over as executive director at the youth-driven climate advocacy group in October after the organization’s co-founder and former Executive Director Varshini Prakash stepped down.

This year will be pivotal for the climate movement, Shiney-Ajay said, especially given the looming elections this fall. “It is clear that we don’t have a lot more time to act at the scale and speed that we need,” she said.

Shiney-Ajay applauded the Biden administration for passing the climate law known as the Inflation Reduction Act and launching an American Climate Corps to deploy young workers into clean energy jobs. But the group intends to keep prodding the president to do more.

If President Joe Biden “wants to be seen as the climate president, if he wants to win the votes of young people, he needs to use his full powers in order to declare a climate emergency, stop the expansion of fossil fuels, create millions of new jobs and use the force of the government to address climate disasters,” she said.

Shiney-Ajay joined the Sunrise Movement soon after its launch in 2017, serving as a full-time volunteer, training director and deputy campaigns director before she took over the group’s helm.

Leah Donahey, senior federal advocacy campaigns director at the League of Conservation Voters

Every year is important when it comes to fighting climate change, Donahey said, but 2024 is a “critical election year” that stands to “set the course for the future” when it comes to the climate.

On the heels of last year’s international commitment to transition away from fossil fuels, “we really need to continue to see really strong action, both to address the climate crisis, but also to stick to that commitment,” Donahey said.

Donahey was proud to be part of the movement that helped enact the climate law and that’s now working to “ensure that investments in it are really felt across the country.”

She said she sees opportunities this year for the Biden administration to expand its conservation efforts and to change how it evaluates the climate impacts of liquified natural gas exports, and that “climate action is a winning issue” that “really matters to voters.”

Prior to joining LCV in 2022, Donahey was legislative director at the Alaska Wilderness League.

Raúl García, vice president of policy and legislation at Earthjustice

This year will be a “moment of reckoning” in terms of protecting people and the planet, García said.

The looming election “means that it’s very important to cement the progress that has been made over the last three years to make sure that as much as possible happens before there’s even a risk of a different administration coming in,” he said.

García said he thinks 2024 will be about continuing the climate work prompted by the massive climate and infrastructure laws and about pushing the administration to fulfill its promises on environmental justice.

He also expects to play defense against congressional efforts to weaken the protections in bedrock environmental laws — including the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act and the National Environmental Policy Act — under House GOP leadership, he said. “We see constant attacks on these laws,” he added.

García has been in his current role at Earthjustice since April but has worked at Earthjustice for more than nine years. Prior to joining the environmental group, he worked as an immigration attorney.

Trevor Higgins, senior vice president of energy and environment at the Center for American Progress

This year feels like a “watershed year for the future trajectory of emissions,” said Higgins, who was promoted to his current gig last March.

For the “entire time that I’ve been working on climate change, it’s felt like a problem too big to tackle,” he said in a recent interview. But “for the first time, we actually have the power of transformative legislation behind us.”

He said he expects 2024 to be a defining moment to see whether “we can succeed in translating that promise into real benefits that can propel public support for continued climate action for decades to come.”

One big focus for the climate movement this year, Higgins said, will be telling the public about the policies enacted so far under the Biden administration.

“President Biden and the 117th Congress did more for climate action than any Congress or administration in history, and people still don’t quite know about it,” he said.

Higgins officially took his current role at CAP last March, but he began serving in an acting capacity in the fall of 2022 when his predecessor, Christy Goldfuss, left for the Natural Resources Defense Council. Higgins previously worked on Capitol Hill as an aide to Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).

Dana Johnson, senior director of strategy and federal policy at WE ACT for Environmental Justice

Johnson said she sees this year as a major opportunity to “transform communities” through the investments made in infrastructure and climate laws.

On top of focusing on the implementation of those laws, Johnson plans to focus on energy policies that “we believe are going in the wrong direction.”

That includes pushing EPA to consider the cumulative impacts of a proposed rule to cut greenhouse gas emissions from power plants and pushing to ensure that “we aren’t building out fossil fuel infrastructure in a way that we’ll be stuck with for decades to come.”

There’s a lot on the line this fall as voters choose who serves in the White House and in Congress, Johnson said. “If it does not turn out in a positive way for frontline groups, we will see the end of a lot of protections and groundwork that we’ve made in this particular administration, but even dating back to the civil rights era.”

Johnson first joined the environmental justice organization in 2019. She previously served in leadership roles at other nonprofits including the YMCA of Metropolitan Washington and YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago.

Lori Lodes, executive director at Climate Power

Lodes and her group Climate Power plan to do “whatever it takes” this year to get the word out about the climate policies Biden has enacted so far and “get people excited to do even more,” she said.

Her group, which launched in 2020 as an effort to “make climate part of the political conversation,” intends to keep people talking about the issue in the 2024 election season, she said.

The organization’s plans include a massive digital and television advertising and education campaign on Biden’s climate record.

One of the biggest challenges for the climate community this year will be bridging an information gap about Biden’s climate and energy record, Lodes said.

“Too many people don’t know just how much has happened,” she said.

Lodes co-founded Climate Power in 2020 with John Podesta, who’s now a top Biden White House official working to implement the climate law. Lodes previously worked in corporate communications for Apple, on Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign and for the Obama administration doing health care communication.

Lena Moffitt, executive director at Evergreen Action

“It’s an exciting time to be in the climate movement,” said Moffitt, who took the helm of the group last March. “We’ve seen that we’re a constituency that elected officials have to take seriously.”

She praised Biden’s work so far on climate but wants to see more from him and his administration.

“Luckily, bold climate policy is just good politics,” she said. “Young people want to see bold climate policies, and Biden needs young people to get reelected.”

She called her organization a “small but mighty” group that’s focused on making sure that “elected officials have the path forward that they need to do as much as is humanly possible to protect our climate.”

Moffitt took over as Evergreen’s leader after the group’s co-founder Jamal Raad stepped down as executive director. Moffitt previously worked on environmental policy at the Sierra Club, the National Wildlife Federation and the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Shara Mohtadi, co-founder and partner at S2 Strategies

Mohtadi, a veteran of the Obama White House and Biden Energy Department, co-founded the new advisory firm last summer that works with nongovernmental organizations, philanthropies and others to help maximize the climate and economic benefits of the Inflation Reduction Act.

One big theme for her this year: trying to harness state governments to become major stewards of the climate law, regardless of any political changes in Washington.

During the Trump administration, Mohtadi noted, state governments continued to push aggressive climate policies when the federal government scaled back.

“I think it’s important that we think about state governments as leaders, no matter what the politics may be. And of course when there are political headwinds, they’re the backstop,” she said.

Mohtadi served as chief of staff in the Biden Energy Department’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, as a senior adviser for climate and energy policy for the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, and as an adviser in the White House budget office during the Obama administration.

Mahyar Sorour, director of Beyond Fossil Fuels Policy at the Sierra Club

Sorour is heading into 2024 “excited about the opportunities we have to continue to push back against the fossil fuel industry and the expansion of oil and gas,” she said.

The former Capitol Hill aide leads the legislative and administrative advocacy efforts for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Dirty Fuels campaign.

She lauded Biden’s “bold vision for aggressive climate action,” including the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act and an EPA rule to crack down on methane emissions.

This year, “the administration has an opportunity to build on the progress that they’ve made,” Sorour said.

She wants to see a final National Environmental Policy Act rule that offers “a bridge to a clean energy future without rubber-stamping fossil fuels,” she said. She’s also urging the administration to “take a more realistic look at the impacts of proposed fossil fuel projects, specifically [liquefied natural gas] and LNG export terminals.”

Sorour has been at the Sierra Club since 2019. She previously worked on Capitol Hill in the offices of Minnesota Democratic Reps. Ilhan Omar and Keith Ellison.