24 june 2019

Election 2020: The Candidates' Climate Change Positions and Accomplishments

How do the Democratic presidential hopefuls compare on their climate actions and promises to solve the crisis? With the debates coming, ICN analyzes their records.

John H. Cushman Jr., Inside Climate News, June 25, 2019

Anyone who views the climate crisis as a compelling issue can only be frustrated by how it has been handled in presidential debates over the years—neglected, mostly. And as the first round of debates for the 2020 election arrives, the frustration may be repeated, if for different reasons this time around.

It's not that the issue won't come up. It will, driven by climate events in the real world, by the extraordinary record of reversal and denial in Washington, by the emphatic alarms of scientists, and by the loud insistence of activists that candidates and the media alike do their share in focusing the spotlight on the urgency of action. Even if the interrogators don't emphasize it, some candidates will.

To prepare for the debates, we explored the candidates' evolution on climate change and early progress in bringing the issue to the forefront in 2020. In the following series of profiles, we focus on the most prominent candidates and those with the most detailed climate proposals, with an eye toward showing the spectrum of policy choices.

On Wednesday and Thursday this week, 20 candidates face questioning from a panel of journalists in two rounds, with 10 candidates each evening. With so many candidates and so much ground to cover, there may be only slight attention to climate change. It may be hard to distinguish the candidates' climate policy positions from one another, let alone to discern the complex details in depth, or to decide which answers are the more coherent, practical or politically appealing.

One goal in these profiles: to help you prepare to watch the debates, perhaps forming in your own mind what climate question you would pose to candidates beyond the most simplistic.

Instead of being asked "do you believe in global warming?" or "would you stay in the Paris treaty?"—every Democratic candidate does and would—we think they should face questions like these:

* "How much would you demand that U.S. emissions decline in your first term, in order to put your targets within reach by the end of your second term?"

* "Many people say we have only 12 years to act. Can you explain where that number comes from and whether you believe it?"

* "Should fossil fuel producers be held liable for the damages being inflicted now because of emissions from our previous use of their products?"

* "Do you think American youth have a constitutional right to a safe climate that could be enforced by the courts?"

* "Should any of the revenues from a carbon tax be spent on research and development of clean technologies, or should it all be returned to households as a tax rebate or dividend?"

* "How much expansion of our natural gas production would be consistent with reaching zero net emissions of carbon dioxide by 2050?"

* "Would you rely heavily on any of these technologies: a new class of nuclear reactors? Capturing the carbon from smokestacks or the atmosphere for storage underground? Geo-engineering to reflect sunlight or seed the oceans as a carbon sink?"

Of course, you can't count on such probing questions being asked or answered. But keeping careful, probing questions in mind may help you to sort out which candidates are truly informing the public. We, too, will parse the answers afterwards.

Following are profiles of a dozen candidates, listed alphabetically. They were drawn from those who are leading in the polls, have detailed climate platforms, or represent diverse policies.


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