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Climate change protesters disrupt Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden during a campaign event. One holds up a sign that reads, “This is an emergency.”
Climate change protesters disrupt Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden during a campaign event in Manchester, New Hampshire, on October 9, 2019.
Scott Eisen/Getty Images

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How climate change ranks as a priority for 2020 Democratic presidential contenders

Several candidates say they would take action on day one of their administration.

To find out how 2020 Democratic candidates would use their presidential powers to address climate change, we sent six key questions to every campaign. This post includes seven candidates’ answers to the first question. You can find answers to the other five questions on the landing page.

A president has only 100 days or so in which to pass a few key priorities. Where does climate change fall on your list of priorities when you step into office?

Joe Biden: [I] know there is no greater challenge facing our country and our world today than climate change. [I have] been clear that the United States needs to raise our ambitions on an epic scale, and lead the rest of the world to do the same. [I] would take immediate action on day one of my Administration to meet this challenge and ensure the US achieves a 100 percent clean energy economy and net-zero emissions no later than 2050. If we don’t get this right, nothing else matters.

Elizabeth Warren: Climate change is a threat to the safety and health of Americans — and it disproportionately impacts our most vulnerable communities and communities of color.

I will keep talking about plans to confront the crisis and a comprehensive, bold approach to addressing climate change would be a top priority in my Administration. I’ve already made clear that on my very first day as president, I will sign an executive order banning new fossil fuel leases and drilling offshore. I’ve put forward several proposals to confront our climate crisis head-on including my plan to make a $2 trillion investment over the next 10 years in green research, manufacturing, and exporting. It will also spur the kind of worldwide adoption of American-made clean energy technology needed to meet the international targets of the Green New Deal.

And let’s be clear: Right now Washington works great for Big Oil but not for communities across the country concerned about the climate crisis. We need to rein in the economic and political power of giant corporations, their lobbyists, and the wealthy and well-connected. The first thing I would do as President is pass my anti-corruption bill to end lobbying as we know it and make our government and democracy work for everyone.

Bernie Sanders: [I] believe climate change is the single greatest threat facing us today. According to top climate scientists, we must act immediately to dramatically cut our greenhouse gas emissions, or we will suffer irrevocable environmental and economic damage. We are long overdue for taking this threat seriously, due in large part to the hundreds of millions of dollars spent by multinational fossil fuel corporations to protect their profits and inaction and even denial from Republicans in Congress. [I] will do what it takes to avert climate disaster.

We have many crises facing our country, from health care to education to income inequality, and [I] believe we must be able to “walk and chew bubblegum” at the same time in combating them. But climate change must be at the top of the list. We have a moral responsibility to leave our kids a planet that is healthy and habitable. We cannot afford to wait any longer.

Pete Buttigieg: The timeline on climate has been decided by science, and the right time to get to net zero carbon emissions was yesterday. The next president can reverse the trajectory toward climate ruin that we’re on today. That’s why I will take immediate action to tackle this challenge head-on.

Tom Steyer: Climate change is a crisis as big and urgent as any other that this country and our planet has faced. It demands our immediate attention on all levels of government and society. Our country needs a strong president who will make this a top priority. On my first day in office, I will declare the climate crisis a national emergency and use the emergency powers of the presidency to implement a plan to build a safer, more sustainable world, with or without Congress. This is truly a global crisis and it is long past time for the United States to take the lead in solving it.

Amy Klobuchar: [I have] said climate change will be a top priority of [my] administration. In [my] announcement speech, [I] said that [I] will get the United States back into the international climate agreement on day one of [my] presidency, and [I have] announced several more immediate actions [I] will take in [my] first 100 days including restoring the Clean Power Plan, bringing back the fuel-economy standards, and putting forward sweeping legislation to combat the climate crisis. The legislation will include:

  • A massive investment in green jobs and infrastructure
  • Climate research and innovation
  • Environmental justice programs
  • Rural energy development and better, greener transportation
  • Carbon pricing
  • State, local, and private incentives for the immediate adoption and deployment of clean energy technologies
  • Incentives and support for tougher building codes, appliance standards, buy clean, and climate resilience.

It will put our country on a path to achieving 100 percent net-zero emissions no later than 2050 and fulfill our responsibility to our communities and workers who have helped power this country.

Mike Bloomberg: Fighting climate change will be a top priority during my first 100 days in office and every day after that. My first act as president will be to re-join the Paris Climate Agreement. I will also take immediate executive action to reverse the damage done by President Trump, speed the transition to clean energy economy-wide, and put America on track to cut carbon emissions by 50 percent by 2030.

I will nominate committed climate leaders to head agencies and departments, and direct them to propose new pollution and energy standards to move our power and transportation and buildings toward clean energy. I’ll work with Congress to pass a budget with new funding for building energy upgrades and electric vehicle deployment, and quadruple investment in clean energy research and development. And I will work with Congress to pass infrastructure legislation that prioritizes electrifying our transportation system and buildings, expanding access to mass transit and other alternatives to cars, and converting our power system to clean energy.

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