How the Top Ten Democratic Candidates Plan to Deal With Climate Change
Editor’s note, Sept 6, 2019: This story has been updated with new information about some candidates’ climate plans.
According to a report released in October by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, we only have 11 years left to avert irreversible damage from climate change. That’s why it is critical that whoever becomes president in 2020 recognizes the magnitude of the climate crisis and commits to tackling it.
Governor Jay Inslee of Washington was the only 2020 candidate to put climate change at the center of his campaign, and though he has dropped out of the race, his influence has been significant.
His far-reaching and detailed $9 trillion plan aimed to reduce carbon emissions 50 percent by 2030 and achieve net-zero emissions (meaning carbon emissions are completely eliminated or offset by carbon removal) by 2045, while creating eight million new jobs. The six-pronged proposal, described in detail on his campaign site, is considered the gold standard.
“I think it’s been very constructive that Inslee was in the mix and talking about climate change on every occasion, maybe nudging the other candidates to pay more attention to it,” said Michael Gerrard, director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University. “He also provides a menu of options that the next president could draw from.”
On the Republican side, President Trump has denied the existence of climate change and has worked hard to reverse previous progress against climate change.
“The Trump administration is doing everything it can think of to cut back on regulations related to climate change,” said Gerrard. In his opinion, “We need a new president who would vigorously reverse those actions and move swiftly in the opposite direction.”
Trump’s Republican competitors, former Illinois congressman Joe Walsh and former Massachusetts governor Bill Weld, have not fleshed out their climate change plans. However, their views on climate change seem to be more moderate than the president’s. Walsh has acknowledged that climate change is a problem that is impacted by human activities. Weld, who has been called a “great environmentalist,” has mentioned a “pressing need to act on climate change” and supports rejoining the Paris agreement.
The ten Democratic candidates who have qualified for the September 12 presidential debate are: Joe Biden, Cory Booker, Pete Buttigieg, Julian Castro, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Beto O’Rourke, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Andrew Yang. While some of these candidates have given more time and thought to developing a comprehensive climate plan, they all appear to understand the urgency of the situation. They have all pledged to rejoin the Paris climate accord, and have refused to accept contributions over $200 from fossil fuel companies.
With so many contenders in the race, it can be difficult to keep track of each candidate’s past work regarding climate change and vision for the future. To help, here are some highlights from each of these 10 candidates’ proposals, below.
Each candidate organizes his or her climate platform differently, but ideally, every plan should address six critical aspects of fighting climate change:
- Moving away from fossil fuels
- Creating a clean energy economy
- Building resilience and sustainability
- Reducing greenhouse gas emissions
- Protecting workers in transition and ensuring environmental justice
- Restoring global leadership
“From coastal towns to rural farms to urban centers, climate change poses an existential threat”
The League of Conservation Voters rates members of Congress on their voting records on environmental issues. Biden’s 36 years as a senator earned him the League of Conservation Voters’ lifetime environmental voting score of 83 percent. (His long tenure in the Senate is a disadvantage here, since understanding of and concern about climate change has evolved over the years.)
When Biden was vice-president, the Obama-Biden team was responsible for joining the Paris climate agreement, enacting stricter vehicle fuel efficiency standards and the Clean Power Plan (now weakened by Trump), which set limits on carbon pollution from power plants.
Biden’s climate plan aims for a 100 percent clean energy economy and net-zero emissions by 2050. To achieve this, he would spend $1.7 trillion over 10 years, with over $5 trillion from the private sector and state and local governments. To transition away from fossil fuels, he would introduce legally binding emissions reduction targets no later than 2025 and hold polluters accountable, especially in vulnerable communities. He would eliminate coal production, institute a carbon tax, place a ban on new fossil fuel permits on public lands, make sure existing fracking is safe, and work towards a global ban on fossil fuel subsidies. He would extend the Obama regulations for fuel economy standards, and require public companies to disclose their climate risks and emissions to induce investors to move their money out of fossil fuel companies.
Biden would create incentives to spur clean energy innovation, particularly in vulnerable communities, and would invest $400 billion over 10 years in clean energy and innovation that will create new well-paying jobs. He would develop renewable energy on public lands and make sure the federal procurement system purchases 100 percent clean energy and zero-emissions vehicles. To encourage the adoption of electric vehicles, he would build 500 charging stations. He would invest in making water, transportation, building, and energy infrastructure clean and resilient, and in making military bases and critical infrastructure climate resilient.
To reduce emissions, Biden would provide incentives for energy efficient retrofits and pay farmers to practice techniques to store more carbon in the soil. Workers in transition from the fossil fuel economy will be guaranteed training opportunities and new clean tech jobs, and all agencies would be required to engage community members in developing local solutions to environmental injustices.
To restore U.S. leadership on climate change, Biden would encourage other countries to make their Paris climate targets more ambitious, sign on to the Kigali Amendment to phase out hydrofluorocarbons, and promote clean energy exports. He emphasizes the importance of leading an international coalition to combat climate change since, even if the U.S. did everything perfectly, it emits only 15 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.
“[T]here is no bigger environmental justice issue than climate change.”
With a League of Conservation Voters’ lifetime score of 99 percent, Senator Booker has long been focused on environmental justice.
If elected, Booker would require every federal agency to have a climate plan. He would work to pass the Green New Deal, the Congressional resolution for a 10-year plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40 to 60 percent from 2010 levels by 2030, and to get to net-zero global emissions by 2050, all while dealing with poverty, income inequality and racial discrimination. But he would aim for a 100 percent carbon neutral economy by 2045, investing $3 trillion by 2030 into the transition. He is a co-sponsor of Warren’s Climate Risk Disclosure Act that would require corporations to disclose their climate risks. He supports a carbon tax whose dividends are paid out “in a progressive way.”
Booker plans to reestablish the EPA’s power and hold polluters accountable. He would ban new fossil fuel leases on public lands, and for offshore drilling, ban crude oil exports and new fossil fuel infrastructure, phase out fracking, and end subsidies for fossil fuel production. He would require companies to stop methane leaks.
He would invest in a smart grid, electric vehicle charging stations, distributed renewable energy, energy efficiency measures, and deploy renewable energy on public lands. An additional $1.5 trillion would be invested in clean energy, energy storage and electric vehicles by 2030, and he would fund research and development into new nuclear technology.
Booker would bring back the Civilian Conservation Corps, creating jobs that enhance and restore the environment, and invest in resiliency and emergency preparedness. He would invest more than $100 billion by 2030 into conservation programs to help farms be more resilient and employ strategies that reduce reduce emissions. He would create an Environmental Justice Fund to invest in communities often left behind; it would ensure that pollution is cleaned up and that everyone has access to safe drinking water.
Booker says he would restore the U.S.’s climate leadership, driving other countries to more stringent climate goals with binding emissions targets and enforcement. He would ensure that all trade agreements contain progressive environmental and labor standards.
“The climate crisis is an emergency affecting our communities right now and we have to treat it that way.”
As mayor of South Bend in coal-dependent Indiana, Buttigieg set up an office of sustainability and joined other mayors to achieve the goals of the Paris accord after the U.S. pulled out of it.
Buttigieg supports “a Green New Deal.” His climate plan aims for a zero-emission electricity system and a zero-emissions requirement for all new vehicles by 2035; and net-zero emissions for industry, manufacturing and agriculture by 2050. To achieve this, he would ban new fossil fuel leases on federal land, curb methane emissions, eliminate fossil fuel subsidies, and institute a carbon tax that returns dividends to the public. He would make polluters pay, and ensure that materials purchased by the federal government are low-carbon. He would quadruple federal investment in research and development to $25 billion by 2025 for renewable energy, smart grids, energy storage, advanced vehicles, greener steel and cement manufacturing, and direct air capture of carbon dioxide.
To reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Buttigieg would create tax incentives for energy efficiency for buildings, homes and appliances. He would enact stricter vehicle emissions standards, and invest $100 billion over 10 years in public transportation. He would create an American Clean Energy Bank to provide loans for clean energy technologies and resilient infrastructure projects, especially for more vulnerable communities. All new infrastructure will be subject to a “climate positive” (going beyond net-zero emissions to remove carbon from the atmosphere) test.
Buttigieg’s plan to revitalize rural America includes an investment of almost $50 billion over 10 years in innovative research in soil technology, plant and animal health, nutrition, health, and natural resources; and he would pay farmers to conserve land and improve soil health. He would create a Climate Corps program to help communities become more resilient and sustainable, and make sure vulnerable communities are protected from climate hazards (he is working on a detailed environmental justice plan). A transitional fund would provide support and retraining for former fossil fuel workers. Military and disaster workers would have to address the security risks of climate change. Buttigieg would green the fleet and ensure that all military installations and bases are resilient.
Buttigieg would work with other countries to make the Paris goals more ambitious, ratify the Kigali Amendment, and work with other countries to phase out methane emissions and fossil fuel subsidies.
“[T]he future of our planet depends on how boldly and comprehensively we address this issue of climate change.”
As mayor of San Antonio, Castro got the city-owned utility to set a goal of 20 percent renewable energy by 2020 and shut down a coal plant — although he also supported fracking. As housing secretary, he managed a $1 billion program to make towns and cities more climate resilient.
Castro’s People and Planet First plan would invest $10 trillion in federal, state, local and private funds towards a clean energy economy and good jobs. He would end fossil fuel extraction on public lands, fossil fuel subsidies, and institute a “carbon pollution fee” for large scale polluters with dividends going towards renewable energy, environmental justice and resiliency.
He would invest in clean technology to bring it to commercial scale, creating a $200 billion Green Infrastructure Fund to invest in smart grids, electric vehicle charging stations and other greener infrastructure.
To reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Castro would renew Obama’s Clean Power Plan, regulate methane emissions, improve energy standards for homes and appliances, and ensure that federal procurement is clean and green.
Castro would plant 30 billion trees by 2050 and protect 30 percent of our land and water by 2030 to enhance the resilience of our natural infrastructure, He would require communities to develop hazard and disaster risk management plans to receive grants, and triple the Pre-Disaster Mitigation Grant program. He would create a Green Opportunity Corps for young people to work in conservation, community resilience, green infrastructure and renewable energy.
To protect vulnerable communities, Castro would re-empower the EPA so that polluters pay, and reinstate the Superfund Tax to clean up pollution. He would require all federal actions to consider the impacts on vulnerable communities, and provide support for fossil fuel workers in transition. To strengthen the social infrastructure of communities, he would ensure they have health care, affordable housing and a living wage, expand unionization, and create a 21st century social safety net to ease the economic disruption for families in transition.
After rejoining the Paris accord, Castro would rally world to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, with the U.S. reaching that goal by 2045.
“We need bold action on the existential climate crisis.”
Senator Harris has a lifetime score of 100 percent from the League of Conservation Voters.
As San Francisco’s district attorney, she created a special unit to focus on environmental justice; she opposed the expansion of a Chevron refinery when she was California’s attorney general.
Harris’s Climate Plan for the People aims to achieve a clean economy by 2045 through an investment of $10 trillion. By 2030, she wants 100 percent carbon neutral electricity, zero-emission vehicles and carbon neutral buildings. She supports the Green New Deal.
To transition away from fossil fuels, she would hold polluters accountable and make them pay, ban fracking and end federal subsidies for fossil fuels. She would regulate methane emissions, ban new fossil fuel leases on federal land, increasing renewable energy development instead. Harris would restore Obama’s environmental regulations, and institute a climate pollution fee, making sure revenues are reinvested in vulnerable communities. She would require corporations to disclose their climate risks.
Harris would extend renewable and clean energy tax credits, help finance clean energy projects, and fund research into energy storage. She would set stricter fuel economy standards, establish a new “cash for clunkers” program, provide tax credits for electric vehicles, fund public transportation, and invest in researching ways to decarbonize shipping, aviation and rail. She would make sure federal procurement is clean and green, and do a comprehensive assessment of grid vulnerabilities.
Clean building standards, energy efficiency measures and retrofits will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Farmers would be given support and incentives to practice climate-smart agriculture that can store more carbon. And Harris would protect 30 percent of our land and water to ensure more natural carbon storage.
She would make critical infrastructure more resilient, provide incentives to decentralize energy sources, and ensure that federally funded infrastructure projects are built to withstand climate hazards. Her Living Shorelines Act and use of green infrastructure would make communities more resilient.
She would pass the Climate Equity Act to score the impacts of climate and environmental legislation on vulnerable communities, and establish an Office of Climate and Environmental Justice to ensure that these communities have representation. Workers will be protected and have the right to well paying jobs, unionization, and job training. Harris would make sure that everyone has access to clean water and air.
To restore the U.S.’s global leadership on climate, Harris would encourage other countries to match the nation’s goal of a carbon neutral economy by 2045, and ratify the Kigali Amendment. She would provide climate-related technological and financial support to nations that need it, and double the U.S. contribution to the Green Climate Fund. She would ensure that the military is ready to face climate challenges and reduce its own carbon footprint.
“Addressing the climate crisis is an urgent priority for our communities, for our economy and for our planet.”
Senator Klobuchar has a 96 percent lifetime grade from the League of Conservation Voters. In 2007, she introduced a bill that would track greenhouse gas emissions with an eye towards a future cap and trade bill. She sits on the Senate Climate Action Taskforce and has worked to expand renewable energy.
Klobuchar is a co-sponsor of the Green New Deal, but acknowledges that it is aspirational; she also co-sponsored Warren’s Climate Risk Disclosure Act. If elected, she would reinstate Obama’s Clean Power Plan and fuel economy standards. She supports a price on carbon with some revenue going towards environmental justice measures and some to research and development. She would restore methane regulations, review offshore drilling projects, and set goals to reduce the federal government’s carbon footprint. She would provide incentives for farmers to employ techniques to store more carbon in soil. She would not ban fracking but would like to regulate it better, and she would not expand nuclear power.
Klobuchar would create incentives to encourage clean energy technology, invest in climate research and the development of technologies to reduce emissions, and ensure low-carbon federal procurement policies. She would promote greener transportation options and develop new energy codes for buildings and appliances.
Klobuchar would invest $1 trillion in green jobs and infrastructure. To build resiliency, she would modernize the energy infrastructure and ensure that federal infrastructure can withstand climate impacts.
She would establish environmental justice programs to protect vulnerable communities, invest in green jobs and protect fossil fuel workers. Klobuchar would work with global allies to address the impacts of climate change such as food and water shortages and natural disasters, and help other countries with adaptation.
“This rests on all of our shoulders to act while we still can, and make sure that this world is inhabitable for the generations…who will succeed us on this planet.”
O’Rourke, the first candidate to come out with a climate platform, has a 95 percent lifetime score from the League of Conservation Voters.
He supports the Green New Deal, and has a four-part $5 trillion plan to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. To curtail fossil fuel use, O’Rourke would create legally binding greenhouse gas emissions targets and hold polluters accountable, set a net-zero goal by 2030 for federal lands, ban offshore drilling, ban new fossil fuel leases and accelerate renewable development on federal lands. He would “decarbonize” government procurement, which includes requiring the federal government to buy greener steel, glass and cement products, and require public companies to disclose climate risks. He would establish a cap and trade system with the income going to help communities.
To promote clean energy, O’Rourke would invest in greener infrastructure and in research into efforts to make agriculture, industry, transportation and water more sustainable, providing tax incentives to encourage new technologies. Reducing methane leaks from oil and gas drilling, phasing out hydrofluorocarbons, strengthening emissions limits for power plants and fuel economy standards, and creating stricter new appliance and building efficiency standards will reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
O’Rourke would provide more than $1.2 trillion through grants and investments for affordable housing, public transit, public health, job training, economic diversification for communities, and more sustainable farming methods. He would increase spending ten-fold on resiliency measures, and shore up the climate readiness of first responders and the military at home and abroad. A national service program would create jobs for young people installing clean energy and making ecosystems more resilient. O’Rourke would lead negotiations with other countries to reach more ambitious climate goals than are in the Paris accord by 2030.
“The climate crisis is not only the single greatest challenge facing our country; it is also our single greatest opportunity to build a more just and equitable future”
The League of Conservation Voters gave Senator Sanders a lifetime score of 92 percent. In 2007, he got a national energy efficiency grant program passed and in 2013, tried unsuccessfully to get a carbon tax bill passed.
Sanders is a co-sponsor of the Green New Deal. If elected, he would pass the Green New Deal and has presented an ambitious $16.3 trillion plan — the most expensive of any candidate — to achieve its goals and incorporate climate change into all policy areas. His plan, which rivals Inslee’s for breadth and detail, aims to achieve 100 percent renewable energy for electricity and transportation by 2030 and complete decarbonization of society by 2050.
To move the country off fossil fuels, Sanders would: make fossil fuel companies pay for their polluting; end fossil fuel subsidies and tax breaks, fossil fuel infrastructure permits, and fossil fuel extraction on public lands; ban fracking and mountain top removal coal mining, offshore drilling and fossil fuel imports and exports; regulate methane and hydrofluorocarbons; and place a fee on carbon-intensive products.
Sanders would spend $1.52 trillion on renewable energy and $852 billion to build energy storage; and increase public ownership of energy generation. He would also invest in research and development of energy storage, electric vehicles, more sustainable plastic, as well as in technologies to decarbonize industry, shipping and aviation. He would penalize corporations that disregard emissions reduction goals, and create a National Climate Risk Report that requires corporations to reveal their climate risks. He would invest in research for better farming techniques and seeds, and incentivize farmers to practice strategies that reduce emissions.
Sanders would create a Climate Justice Resiliency Fund that provides grants for community climate resiliency projects, and for energy efficiency and weatherization upgrades. He would rebuild physical and broadband infrastructure to withstand climate impacts. Sanders would protect energy workers by providing good benefits and wages, job training and placement, and provide funds for communities most impacted by the transition away from fossil fuels. He would create new jobs through a Civilian Conservation Corps, and ensure environmental justice through a social safety net providing energy and food assistance and community economic development.
To restore the country’s global leadership, he would add $200 billion to the Green Climate Fund, which helps developing countries deal with climate change impacts, implement binding climate goals and renegotiate trade deals to better protect the environment. He would end overseas fossil fuel financing.
Sanders’ plan does not support a carbon tax, nuclear energy, or carbon capture and storage technology.
“When it comes to climate change, our very existence is at stake.”
Senator Warren, with a lifetime score of 99 percent from the League of Conservation Voters, is a co-sponsor of the Green New Deal.
Warren’s plan aims for 100 percent zero emissions in commercial and residential buildings by 2028; in all passenger vehicles, light trucks and buses by 2030; and in electricity generation by 2035. To accelerate the transition away from fossil fuels, Warren would ban fracking and new fossil fuel leases offshore and on public lands, increasing renewable power generation there instead. She would set high standards for utilities, retire coal plants, require federal agencies to purchase clean energy, and provide federal subsidies for clean energy projects. Her Climate Risk Disclosure plan would require corporations to disclose their climate risks. She has a plan to speed the transition to clean energy with a $3 trillion investment over the next 10 years in research, development and the manufacture of clean tech. The plan entails producing clean technology, and requiring the federal procurement process to purchase clean and emission-free products, and includes $400 billion for research and development of clean energy. These measures would create jobs for which workers’ rights and benefits would be protected. She would invest in community development projects for vulnerable communities, which would also be given priority for resources and support. She would also create job opportunities for young people with a 21st Century Civilian Conservation Corps that cares for our natural resources.
To reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Warren would restore methane pollution regulations and provide farmers with the support needed to practice more sustainable agriculture that reduces emissions. She would set increasingly strict vehicle emissions standards, and provide tax credits to purchase electric vehicles. She would also invest in research into decarbonizing shipping and aviation. Warren would set cleaner standards for building construction and provide incentives to retrofit existing buildings. Warren’s Green Marshall plan would include $100 billion to help other countries purchase American clean energy products. Military bases and infrastructure would have to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2030 and regularly report on their climate vulnerability, and the Department of Defense would be required to prioritize the threats posed by climate change.
“We’ve waited too long, so we need to act fast and recognize that all options need to be on the table in order to adapt to the changed world we live in”
Yang says he would redefine economic success in terms of sustainability and public health. His climate plan includes target dates for net-zero standards for new buildings by 2025, new cars by 2030 and all transportation sectors by 2040, with a full green economy by 2049.
To achieve these goals, Yang would invest $4.87 trillion over 20 years. He would end subsidies for fossil fuel companies, ban new fossil fuel leases on public lands, fight new fossil fuel infrastructure such as pipelines, and create more stringent Clean Power Plan standards. He would institute a carbon tax, returning half the dividends back to Americans to help them transition to sustainable energy sources and vehicles, and tax imports from countries that don’t have carbon pricing factored in. He would force companies to disclose their climate risks.
Yang would ensure that all federal buildings are energy efficient and run on clean energy. To modernize the electrical grid, he would mount a competition challenging utilities to update their infrastructure and innovate for a $25 billion prize.
To reduce emissions, Yang would provide grants for electrifying public transportation, and invest in new nuclear energy technologies, carbon capture, greener concrete, alternative aircraft fuel, and geoengineering strategies. He would also provide grants to farms practicing sustainable techniques, invest in drought-resistant crop research, and incentivize supermarkets to waste less food.
He would establish sustainable infrastructure standards for new buildings, invest $30 billion in high-risk cities to deal with sea level rise, provide funds to people who want to elevate their homes or relocate, and help make vulnerable communities more disaster-resistant through grants.
Yang would provide vocational training in green jobs and subsidies for low-income individuals to adopt cleaner energy sources. He would promote the export of green technology throughout the world, ensure that trade deals have strict environmental standards, increase foreign aid to help developing countries with sustainable projects, and offer military assistance to areas of the world made unstable by climate change. To prevent future administrations from back-pedaling, he would advocate for a constitutional amendment to make states and the federal government protect and preserve the environment.
These ten candidates have qualified for the third Democratic debate on Thursday, September 12 at 8pm ET. Some of them will participate in MSNBC’s climate town hall on September 19 and 20 beginning at 3pm ET each day.