A marathon, seven-hour climate forum on CNN Wednesday evening gave 2020 Democrats a first opportunity to debate their climate strategies and try to differentiate themselves on an issue on which many of the leading candidates largely agree.
In the course of the forum, the candidates also “showed the first signs of weaponizing climate change in the primary campaign,” Politico reports.
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“For months, Democratic candidates had released climate-related plans with common promises: Re-entering the Paris climate agreement, spending trillions of dollars on clean energy initiatives, and achieving net-zero emissions by 2050 or earlier,” the insider politics publication notes. “Distinctions among their approaches appeared minute compared to the alternative—a president who denies climate science, suggested windmills cause cancer, and called climate change a Chinese hoax.”
But now, the distinctions among the candidates are beginning to shake out, with Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) touting his opposition to oil and gas fracking, Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) declaring herself against nuclear power, and former vice president Joe Biden casting his international experience as the key to getting the “rest of the world to come along” in response to the climate crisis.
Three nomination candidates also offered up a first look at their detailed climate plans, with Warren calling for a 10-year, US$3-trillion investment in clean energy, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) calling for $10 trillion in public and private funding by 2045, and Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana proposing net-zero emissions by 2050 and supporting an economy-wide carbon price. Meanwhile, Biden was put on the defensive for receiving fundraising help from a former fracking executive, Harris ducked a question on nuclear, and former San Antonio mayor and Obama cabinet secretary Julián Castro took heat for his past support for fracking.
“We have seen, I think, an arms race now, in a good way, of candidates competing to have the most effective plans,” said Washington Governor Jay Inslee, who recently withdrew from the race for the nomination.
Politico says Inslee’s departure has opened a window to adopt his mantle as the climate leader in the race. Warren has met with him and says she’s “proudly adopted’ many of his proposals, Castro’s climate plan offers him a shout-out, and Harris quoted him directly during the CNN forum.
“Governor Inslee, I’m stealing your line,” Harris said. “He said … ‘So, Donald Trump says wind turbines cause cancer.’ And Jay Inslee famously and…with great humour said, ‘No, they don’t cause cancer. They cause jobs.’”
Politico notes that “the one-upmanship on climate would have seemed improbable for an issue that long languished in the backwaters of American politics. And the political effect of their jockeying is unclear.” But former California governor and three-time presidential aspirant Jerry Brown said climate change is now “more in the presidential debate than ever,” partly due to severe weather and partly because of “Trump going bonkers” on the issue.
“I think the eloquence by which you can attack the Trump position, the plausibility and excitement with which you can lay out a green and sustainable agenda, all of that could serve a candidate very well,” Brown told CNN. “I think there is an opportunity there, but it’s going to require incredible imagination and a certain boldness on the part of the candidate.”InsideClimate News is out with detailed profiles of the 2020 Democrats and their positioning on the climate crisis.
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