Presidential Candidates’ Positions on Climate in 3D

Posted February 10, 2020

The ILLUME team spent a great deal of time last year examining climate change and equity. One common thread that runs through our analysis is responsibility—global, societal, and personal. America has an outsized role in causing climate change, yet a smaller risk of suffering the worst of its effects. One of the biggest ways we take responsibility is through the people we elect to lead us. As we await results from the early primaries, we look at our candidates in 3D, through the lens of climate change, to examine their plans and policies to tackle this existential threat.

The Democrats

Having a comprehensive plan to combat climate change has become table stakes for Democratic nominees. Below, we concentrate on a selection of the top Democrats’ positions on climate.

The former Vice President has championed climate legislation in the past but it is not one of his signature issues heading into the 2020 election.

“We need an environmental revolution. I said back in 1987 in a floor speech when they passed one of my bills, I said we have an existential threat! We have a situation where if we don’t act quickly, we’re going to lose basically everything we have. And that’s exactly the case, it’s even more urgent now. We do need to finish this green revolution in a way that’s rational, that we can afford, and get it done now.”

Position Summary: Biden introduced the first climate change bill in the Senate in 1986. Since that time, he has advocated for a clean energy economy. His climate plan, the Clean Energy Revolution, builds from Green New Deal tenants to address climate change and regain American leadership in this space.

Roadmap: The Biden plan includes (1) changes to the U.S. tax code to end the Trump tax cuts and subsidies for fossil fuels, (2) investment in clean energy research and development (R&D), (3) diplomatic pressure on other countries to reduce emissions, (4) electrifying the U.S. fleet through higher standards and Clean Air Act enforcement, and (5) instituting higher appliance standards and incentives for deep building retrofits combining appliance electrification, efficiency, and on-site clean power generation.

Price Tag: $1.7 trillion

The Independent Senator from Vermont and progressive darling’s plan to combat climate change is viewed as the most aggressive with the largest price tag.

“You cannot go too far on the issue of climate change! The future of the planet is at stake!”

Position Summary: Sanders echoes the climate activist community’s language of climate emergency requiring a New Deal and WWII-style mass mobilization. Sanders has staked out a position that is more ambitious and more adversarial to the fossil fuel industry than his opponents. Whereas most candidates have adopted the goal of carbon neutrality by 2050, Sanders takes it a step further, calling for decarbonizing the power and transportation sectors by 2030.

Roadmap: Sanders’ Green New Deal plan centers on (1) a climate justice resilience fund to help marginalized communities adapt, (2) a huge injection of capital to enable rapid deployment of renewable energy and energy storage, (3) a new underground, high-voltage, direct current network to facilitate large-scale renewable adoption, and (4) an infusion of cash to support the U.N. Green Climate Fund to help other countries draw down emissions.

Price Tag: $16.3 trillion

The Massachusetts Senator has made income inequality the mainstay of her campaign. As for climate change, she also “has a plan for that.”

“When it comes to climate change, our very existence is at stake. But Washington refuses to lift a finger without permission from the fossil fuel companies. That’s dangerous and it’s wrong!… Stop stalling on spending money, real money, on infrastructure, on clean energy and a Green New Deal!”

Position Summary: Warren does not have climate siloed in one plan but has included tactics to combat climate change into her myriad plans, spanning economic, public resources, and national security issues. [1] One reason for this? Warren doesn’t view climate change as the central problem, rather money in politics that is blocking progress. She is distinct among the candidates in that her plans are clearly paid for by taxing wealth and corporate profits, not reliant on unspecified private investment, for example. [2]

Roadmap: Warren is using a blanket approach in her plans (five and counting) to tackle climate change. Her proposals include (1) a Blue New Deal for the oceans that invests in offshore wind, community-based seafood markets, and more, (2) a Green Manufacturing Plan that includes a Green Apollo Program to invest in clean energy R&D, the Green Industrial Mobilization plan to use federal procurement to purchase American-made clean energy, and a Green Marshall Plan to encourage other countries to purchase American-made clean energy technology, (3) a Defense Climate Resiliency and Readiness Act, already introduced, that calls for the military to go largely net-zero by 2030, (4) a Climate Risk Disclosure Act, already introduced, that would require businesses to calculate and disclose their business risks from climate change, (5) a 100% Clean Energy for America plan, adopted and expanded from Washington Governor Inslee’s plan calling for zero-carbon buildings, zero emissions vehicles, and zero emissions energy through investment, higher standards, and a new Federal Renewable Energy Commission, and (6) a border carbon adjustment that slaps fees on goods from countries that do not meet certain environmental standards.

Price Tag: $3 trillion

This mayor of South Bend, Indiana has made a splash in the primary with his message of generational change and focus on issues including climate.

“We’re running out of time. Experts tell us that we have 10 years to get on the right path, or global warming will reach catastrophic levels by 2050. But the timeline that compels us to act isn’t set by Congress — it’s being dictated by science.”

Position Summary: Buttigieg’s plan to combat climate change has aggressive benchmarks culminating in a goal of net-zero emissions by 2050, aligned with many of his fellow nominees. His plan is distinct in that it calls for “tapping into the potential of rural areas” and relies on a lower outlay by government, with the private sector picking up more of the tab.

Roadmap: The key tenets of Buttigieg’s plan include (1) a clean energy bank to finance efficiency, clean energy, clean water, and resilience projects, (2) a carbon tax with revenues distributed back to low and middle-income Americans, (3) climate risk disclosure requiring publicly listed companies to disclose their climate impacts, (4) a CarbonStar—a la ENERGY STAR®—program that informs buyers of a product’s carbon footprint and offers rebates for more efficient options, and (5) extended tax credits for carbon capture.

Price Tag: $1.5 – 2 trillion

A member of the Senate Climate Action Taskforce, the Minnesota Senator wants to invest in climate change initiatives and has a track record of getting things done in Congress to back her up.

“If we don’t do anything, it’s gonna be at our economic peril. Let’s acknowledge there’s a lot of gain for us in the middle of the country…There’s a lot of gain with renewable energy and what we’ve already seen with wind, if we build that grid right.”

Position Summary: Klobuchar’s  climate platform focuses on spurring the economy to invest, giving municipal and cooperative utilities a seat at the table, and placing a greater emphasis on the Midwest. [3] Her plan differs from others in its openness to carbon capture for fossil fuels and nuclear energy, and that it does not ban fracking.

Roadmap: Expect Klobuchar to use the full power of the executive, as well as work with Congress, to restore Obama-era rules and commitments like the Paris agreement. Her plan also includes (1) a $1 trillion infrastructure package to support grid modernization and energy efficiency, (2) a carbon pricing system, (3) technology-neutral production and investment tax credits for clean energy, (4) reducing the federal government’s carbon footprint and streamlining renewable projects on federal land, (5) ending federal fossil fuel subsidies, (6) creating a “Buy Clean” product labeling system, and (7) revitalizing freight and passenger rail.

Price Tag: $2- 3 trillion


The Republicans

Though we can guess who will win the Republican nomination, we consider the stated plans of Trump and his primary opponent.

The President has focused on undoing environmental regulations put in place by the Obama administration, announcing that the U.S. will exit the Paris climate accord the day after the November 2020 election.

“A lot of people like myself — we have very high levels of intelligence, but we’re not necessarily such believers [in climate change]. You look at our air and our water, and it’s right now at a record clean.”

Position Summary: Trump has repeatedly dismissed the science of climate change and has actively worked against efforts by prior administrations. The President includes among his accomplishments rescinding the Clean Power Plan, rolling back lighting and vehicle fuel standards and an Obama-era rule curbing methane emissions, and expanding oil and gas drilling including on public lands.

Roadmap: Trump has not released a climate plan to date.

Price Tag: $0

The former federal prosecutor and once Massachusetts Governor has a moderate platform centered on fiscal restraint and free trade with little emphasis on climate change.

“With respect to the environment and climate change, the approach of the current administration is antithetical to every principle of conservation and conservatism, and every tenet of Theodore Roosevelt’s Grand Old Party. Whether it’s as protection of a fragile ecosystem or as stewardship of God’s creation, take your choice, there’s a pressing need to act on climate change.”

Position Summary: A New England Republican, Weld calls himself an environmentalist, and has said that climate change is a major issue. He has also declared his support for rejoining the Paris accord.

Roadmap: Weld has not released any climate plans to date and his campaign website does not reference any positions on climate change. However, in a September Business Insider GOP primary debate, he spoke in favor of a carbon tax. [4]

Price Tag: $0


The Takeaway

We’re not going to tell you how to vote. We’re providing this look at our candidates in hopes that climate is an issue that informs your choice and is important in how you weigh your options. By making climate change a priority at the polls, we can keep the pressure on the next resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to stay in the fight and regain America’s leadership in the global effort to turn back our devastating trajectory.