Iowa Democrats evaluating presidential candidates in this week’s debate will weigh a number of issues and factors in making their choice. How big a role will climate change play in the debate, and who will be the best climate candidate?

Addressing climate change has become one of the major policy issues that has leap-frogged ahead of nearly every other topic for Iowa caucus attendees.

The June CNN/Des Moines Register poll has climate change as the number two priority for likely Iowa caucus-goers. The poll asked caucus participants what issues their candidate must have to gain their support.

“Recognition of climate change as the greatest threat to humanity” was identified by 75% of respondents. Only “a woman’s right to abortion” yielded slightly more support at 79%.  In April, a national CNN poll of Democrats had climate change as a “very important” priority for presidential candidates.

Last year’s climate report issued a dire warning about the urgency of lowering carbon emissions. In order to avoid the most catastrophic consequences of a warming planet, that report requires that carbon emissions be cut by 45% by 2030 and reduced to zero by 2050. This 12 year warning, demanding a nearly 50% cut in emissions, ramped up the need for action.

The positive polling and the urgency of the climate report has triggered many of the candidates to be talking climate. That has many Iowa Democrats asking, who has the best climate plan?

Washington’s Governor Jay Inslee stands out as the only candidate that is making climate change his exclusive issue. Nearly every Democratic candidate has jumped on the climate bandwagon by incorporating the climate issue into their campaigns.

We are seeing candidates adding climate talking points to their stump speeches and they are competing on climate by offering impressive climate spending plans. They are also raising the bar for the other candidates by setting minimum climate initiatives like support for the Green New Deal.

There is wide agreement that solving the climate crisis will require significant investments. Reducing the use of fossil fuels and replacing them with renewables will require a massive transition in our economy. Candidates have started to roll out solutions with big funding investments.

Beto O’Rourke recently announced a big climate plan of $5 trillion over ten years, surprising many climate advocates. Comparing a few of the larger proposals: Senator Bennet has proposed approximately $10 trillion; Congressman Delaney $4 trillion; Inslee $9 trillion; Warren $2 trillion and Biden just announced his plan of $1.7 trillion.

The numbers suggest these candidates grasp the gravity and immense cost of decarbonizing the economy. However, promising large investments is simply the first step. There is wide agreement that setting lower emission goals is essential.

A majority of the candidates (14 of the 24) have come out in support of the Green New Deal. They all want to rejoin the Paris Climate Accords, and 16 have signed the “no fossil fuel money pledge.” There is general agreement that 2050 is the goal to reach near zero emissions and transition to renewables.

Last week the New York Times asked 21 of the candidates the following question: “can climate change be stopped?” Of the 21 only 5 said it can be stopped. They included Delaney, Bennet, Inslee, Hickenlooper and de Blasio.

This week’s debates will give each of the candidates an opportunity to make their pitch as the best climate candidate. Will any of them break out of the pack with a strong climate message?

 

by Rick Smith
Posted 6/25/19

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