This past week, six 2020 Democratic presidential candidates — Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Julián Castro, Sen. Cory Booker, Sen. Kamala Harris, and Pete Buttigieg — rolled out their plans to fight the threat of climate change. On Wednesday night, CNN held a marathon town hall where they discussed and debated their proposals.
While President Donald Trump calls climate change a "hoax" and Hurricane Dorian, a storm that was likely intensified by the effects of climate change, rages on, the candidates are trying to meet our global calamity head-on — some with more ambitious plans than others.
Ahead, what the major 2020 contenders have said they would do about climate change if elected.
The Massachusetts senator, who has been edging her way to the top of the field all summer, has been focused on the connection between climate change and trade and manufacturing. In June, she introduced a $2 trillion green-manufacturing plan, which has three parts: the Green Apollo Program, which would allocate $400 billion over 10 years for clean-energy research and development and create a National Institutes of Clean Energy; a $1.5 trillion federal-procurement commitment to U.S.-made renewable-energy products; and a $100 billion "Green Marshall Plan" that would encourage foreign investment in U.S. clean-energy products.
On Tuesday, Warren issued a plan that echoed the Green New Deal — adopting the proposal of "climate change candidate" Gov. Jay Inslee, who dropped out of the race in August — calling for an additional $1 trillion investment over 10 years in the transition to 100% clean energy and to help workers in fossil fuel industries find green jobs. The "I have a plan" candidate has pledged to do away with carbon energy and wean the U.S. off nuclear power by 2035. At the CNN town hall, she warned Democrats not to get bogged down debating things like plastic vs. paper straws (important as they may be!), but to look at the bigger picture. "This is exactly what the fossil fuel industry hopes we're all talking about," Warren said.
On Wednesday, the California senator unveiled her plan pledging $10 trillion to clean-energy transition. The goal is 100% of carbon-neutral electricity by 2030 and a 100% clean economy by 2045. She also proposed a progressively increasing carbon-pollution fee and putting an end to fossil fuel subsidies. At the CNN town hall, Harris promised to flex her prosecutorial muscle and urge the Department of Justice to go after oil and gas companies. She also said she will get rid of the Senate filibuster (read an explainer on that here) if Republicans don't cooperate on the Green New Deal.
In July, Harris teamed up with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on the Climate Equity Act, the goal of which is to ensure that any measure to fight climate change and its results benefits low-income and marginalized communities.
The Minnesota senator announced a plan on Sunday that puts executive action front-and-center. In her first 100 days, she vowed to rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement and reenact the Obama-era policies rolled back by President Trump on car fuel efficiency standards and limits on carbon pollution. Her plan also includes a $1 trillion infrastructure package, through which she aims to make buildings more energy-efficient and climate-friendly. And, she wants to issue bonds to support clean-energy projects that she says could raise up to $50 billion and create over 1 million jobs. Like many of the other candidates, she wants to end fossil fuel subsidies and wean the U.S. off carbon by 2050.
She is also much more eager to compromise with Republicans, most of whom do not support spending money on these climate change proposals. At the CNN town hall, she warned Democrats that if they don't pay attention to how new climate policies may affect workers, "it's going to be really hard to bring along those people who we need to win in the middle of the country."
The former vice president promised a $1.7 trillion investment in clean energy over 10 years, $400 billion of which would be dedicated to research and development. His goal is to achieve a clean-energy economy and net-zero emissions by 2050. But his proposal has been criticized for not going far enough and relying on controversial "carbon capture" technology, as well as investments in nuclear energy.
At the CNN town hall, he seemingly took a swipe at the idealism of some of the other candidates, saying, "Plans are great. Executing their plans is a very different thing. You still have to get the rest of the world to come along. ... I know almost every one of those world leaders."
The Vermont senator has a bigger — and more costly — plan than any of the other candidates, calling for a $16.3 trillion investment over 15 years in clean energy and infrastructure as part of his own "Green New Deal." The proposal aims to create 20 million new jobs and reach a 100% renewable transportation and electric grid by 2030. It also calls for “complete decarbonization” of the energy sector by 2050, and for ending federal investment in and subsidies to the fossil fuel industry.
"We are fighting for the survival of the planet Earth, our only planet. How is this not a major priority?" Sanders asked at the CNN town hall.
The South Bend, IN, mayor released a plan on Wednesday that would include an estimated $1.5 to $2 trillion federal investment in creating over 3 million clean-energy and infrastructure jobs in 10 years. He says he has a goal of reaching net-zero emissions by 2050 (when, the youngest candidate reminded us, he will be 68). Buttigieg's proposal includes a $200 billion investment in research and development, creating a Clean Energy Bank that would finance new technologies, and both public and private investment in U.S. companies developing green technologies. It also calls for the creation of a U.S. Climate Corps for high school graduates who want to educate communities and rebuild infrastructure to help the country adjust to the realities of climate change.
"The President is busy drawing with a Sharpie on a hurricane map. He's in a different reality than the rest of us. ... We don't have the luxury of debating whether this is an issue," Buttigieg said at the CNN town hall.
At the CNN town hall, the former Housing and Urban Development secretary and mayor of San Antonio, TX, stressed that disadvantaged communities are more likely to suffer from the climate crisis.
Castro issued a plan on Tuesday that calls for $10 trillion in investment to create 10 million new clean-energy jobs. He also aims to create a $200 billion Green Infrastructure Fund for water systems, energy grids, electric-vehicle charging stations, and more. He has pledged to strengthen the National Flood Insurance Program. He wants to end fossil fuel subsidies and reach net-zero emissions by 2045.
The former Texas congressman and U.S. Senate candidate released a plan in April that proposes investing $5 trillion in clean energy, aiming for 2050 as a net-zero emissions goal. His plan calls for $500 billion to decarbonize the U.S. and create a "buy clean" program for materials such as steel, glass, and cement. It also allocates over $1.2 trillion to housing and infrastructure. Unlike several of the other candidates, O'Rourke came out against a carbon tax in favor of a cap-and-trade program that would force polluting companies to cut emissions.
The New Jersey senator introduced his climate change policy on Tuesday, calling for $3 trillion in spending on clean energy with the goal of decarbonizing by 2045. Booker wants to establish an Environmental Justice Fund dedicated to issues such as cleaning up abandoned mines, replacing lead water pipes, and planting 100 million trees in urban areas over 10 years to help reduce pollution. Booker's proposal includes a $400 billion investment in research and development. Unlike other candidates, including Warren, he has backed the use of nuclear power.
Yang, who has secured himself a spot on the September debate stage with his left-field proposals — and the #YangGang hashtag didn't hurt — took an unusual route and emphasized his universal basic income plan (a.k.a. paying every U.S. citizen $1,000 per month) when discussing climate change at this week's CNN town hall. He argued that when you "get the boot off someone's throat," it frees them up to think about threats like climate change.
He has proposed a $5 trillion plan to reduce emissions, which includes funding for unconventional methods like geo-engineering, giant space mirrors, and cloud-seeding (a way of reducing precipitation that's definitely still in the it's-being-studied phase). His goal is a net-zero emissions economy by 2040, and he backs a tax on carbon.