By Jon Lamson

While the 2020 candidates for the Democratic nominee stress that climate change is an urgent issue that necessitates our immediate attention and an extensive global effort, there are some major differences in how they plan on approaching the issue. All of the five highest polling Democratic candidates have put out climate change plans, with varying detail and ambition. 

Sen. Bernie Sanders leads the pack with the most expensive plan by far, a public investment of $16.3 trillion over 15 years, in his effort to reach complete decarbonization by 2050. Before this is achieved, he calls for 100% renewable energy in the electricity and transportation sectors by 2030. In order to accomplish this plan, he calls for a ban on fracking, as well as on the import and export of coal, oil, and natural gas, while focusing investments on solar, wind, and geothermal energy. He states the plan will create 20 million new jobs, with a focus on transitioning fossil fuel workers to renewable energy jobs.

Following Sanders is Sen. Kamala Harris, whose plan calls for $10 trillion in investment over 10 years in order to reach net-zero emissions in the US by 2045. She is proposing 100% carbon neutral electricity by 2030, and that all new cars be made carbon free by 2035. She has previously supported bans on fracking and offshore drilling for oil and gas, though her current plan fails to mention these issues. 

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, despite her close association with Sanders, proposes spending significantly less, coming in at a total of about $5 trillion ($2 trillion for green research, manufacturing, and exporting, $1.5 trillion for the purchase of green products, $1.5 trillion for subsidizing the transition to zero-emission vehicles). This plan would reach complete decarbonization of electricity by 2035. She has also pledged to ban fracking and to stop all new leases on drilling offshore and on public land on her first day in office. 

Former Vice President Joe Biden, the moderate frontrunner for much of the race thus far, has put out a plan for a $1.7 trillion investment, striving to reach 100% clean energy net-zero carbon emissions as a nation by 2050. Like all other candidates, he has proposed stopping all new oil drilling leases offshore and on public lands. However, he has said he would not ban fracking. Furthermore, while he likes to highlight his role in the Obama administration on the debate stage, the failure of that administration to aggressively target fossil fuels does not work in his favor. His plan also focuses research and development of nuclear and carbon capture technologies — energy sources that are controversial among environmentalists and avoided by his more liberal competitors. 

Lastly, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who,  of the candidates in this article ranks lowest in the polls, has released a plan with $1 trillion of federal spending, aiming to create three-million new jobs, reaching net-zero emissions by 2050. He would invest $25 billion by 2025 into developing green technologies — less than other candidates. He supports a ban on fracking, making Biden the only major candidate who has failed to do so. Like Biden, however, he has focused on carbon capture and pricing — ideas somewhat avoided by Sanders and Warren, who focus more on the rapid phasing out of fossil fuels. 

While many aspects of these plans may be very difficult to pass, depending on the political situation in which we find ourselves come January 2021, they serve as strong indicators of how each candidate would approach the issue and of the importance they assign to it.   

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