Twenty Democratic candidates took the stage in Miami on June 26-27, with the hopes of winning over voters in the first 2020 Democratic presidential debate. During the four-hour event, top Democratic candidates contentiously debated hot button issues, such as immigration, gun control and healthcare. When it came to the topic of climate change, however, the debate left some viewers wanting more.
Although climate change has been deemed one of the most important issues for Democratic voters ahead of the 2020 presidential election, only about 15 minutes in total between the two nights were dedicated to the issue. Given the sheer number of participants and the debate format, it was difficult for the candidates, including those with fully formulated climate change platforms, to articulate any detailed substantive policy. Nevertheless, there were still some key takeaways from the first debate’s limited discussion on climate change.
On the first night of the debate, Senator Elizabeth Warren (MA) briefly outlined her $2 trillion green manufacturing platform. Under her proposal, the federal government would spend $400 billion in funding over the next decade for clean energy research and development in an attempt to spur innovation and investment in the American clean energy sector. Senator Warren declared that products derived from clean technology “have to be manufactured right here in the United States of America” and exported to the rest world.
Former Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke touted his own $5 trillion climate plan, which he released in April. O’Rourke’s proposal calls for reducing greenhouse gas emissions 50% by 2030 and attaining carbon neutrality by 2050. To meet these targets, O’Rourke pledges to prohibit oil and gas drilling on public lands and to boost cleaner fuels and power sources. On stage, O’Rourke explicitly supported carbon capture and sequestration.
Washington Governor Jay Inslee, who has made addressing climate change the focus of his campaign, had little time to expound on any of his recent climate change-related proposals Wednesday night. When the governor was asked if his climate platform would “save Miami,” Inslee responded that he was the only candidate who had made climate change his top priority. Governor Inslee has released the most comprehensive climate change platform of any candidate, calling for prohibiting the sale of gasoline-powered vehicles by 2030, attaining a carbon-neutral electric grid by 2035 and requiring all newly constructed buildings to have zero carbon emissions by 2030. Inslee also advocates for doubling the country’s carbon reduction commitment under the Paris Agreement.
The following night, former Vice President Joe Biden stated that he would build 500,000 recharging stations across the country to support “a full electric vehicle future” by 2030. Biden praised the Obama administration’s work on the Paris Agreement when the moderator noted that President Obama was unable to enact meaningful climate policy while in office. Biden, in June, released a climate proposal that includes investing $1.7 trillion in clean energy, infrastructure and public health and achieving carbon neutrality by 2050.
Senator Kamala Harris (CA) referred to climate change as a “crisis” and stated that she endorsed the Green New Deal when asked to describe her climate change plan. Harris largely has refrained from detailing how she would address climate change.
Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) similarly did not detail specifics, but vowed to “take on the fossil fuel industry.” Sanders, who has yet to release a climate change plan, has stated that he is committed to banning fracking and new fossil fuel infrastructure and eliminating the export of coal, natural gas and crude oil.
Former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper took a less adversarial position and advocated for “a collaborative approach to climate change.” Specifically, the former governor stated that oil and gas companies should “be a part of the solution.” Hickenlooper applauded the Green New Deal’s sense of urgency, but criticized the social aspects of the resolution, like its job guarantee. Green New Deal co-sponsors Harris, Sanders and Senator Kristen Gillibrand (NY) refrained from responding to his criticism of the resolution. Other notable candidates who endorsed the Green New Deal include Senators Corey Booker (NJ), Amy Klobuchar (MN) and Warren.
When asked about his climate plan, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg expressed support for a carbon tax and dividend. The mayor called for collaborating with farmers and local community leaders to address the effects of climate change. Buttigieg previously pledged to quadruple federal funding to renewable energy research and carbon capture, but has not released a formal climate change platform.
It appears the Democratic National Committee (DNC) is considering placing more emphasis on climate change, amid criticism from activists. In June, the DNC rejected the idea of holding a climate debate, which was supported by 15 candidates, including Inslee, Biden and Warren. Two days after the first debate, the DNC unamiously agreed to formally consider a pair of proposals to establish a climate-centric event for Democratic candidates. The first proposal calls for an offical climate change debate, while the second resolution aims to create a “climate forum,” in which each qualifying candidate would be allotted time to answer questions individually. Even if the proposals ultimately fail, it seems likely that voters and the eventual Democratic nominee will ensure that climate change continues to be a major issue in the upcoming 2020 presidential election.