The Climate Change Policies Of Every Serious Presidential Contender

In July 2019, only four percent of Americans said that climate change is the most important issue facing our country today. According to Gallup, Americans are more concerned with immigration, race relations, health care, and “the government.” But climate change is directly affecting migration patterns; a vast number of environmental disasters directly impact people of color and poor people in the U.S.; and you can’t talk about health care without talking about how climate change is going to worsen health outcomes for many Americans.

In other words: despite public perception, climate change is very likely the most important issue facing humans today, its tendrils reaching into every facet of human life. With that in mind and the 2020 presidential election looming on the horizon, we compiled the climate change policies of all of the serious presidential candidates — Democrats who qualified for the third Democratic debate and sitting President Donald Trump. Here’s which steps each of them hopes to see the nation take in the near future.

Joe Biden

As of at least June, the former Vice President supports the Green New Deal — or, at least, parts of the GND, calling the sweeping policy a “critical framework.” And while his climate change policy does advocate for making the switch to net-zero emissions, it’s not nearly as stringent as the GND as proposed by Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Rather, here’s what Biden is proposing:

  • Create a 100 percent clean energy economy and reach net-zero emissions no later than 2050
  • Invest in infrastructure spending, rebuilding roads, the electric grid, the water system, and more
  • Rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement, a global agreement to curb emissions and limit the warming of the planet to below 2 degrees celsius with a stricter goal of limiting it to 1.5 degrees celsius
  • “Take action” against companies that pollute and “knowingly harm” the environment
  • Preserve and re-implement the Clean Air Act in order to create rigorous standards for fuel efficiency in vehicles of all manner and push for the development of biofuel
  • Require “aggressive” new methane pollution restrictions for “existing oil and gas operations”
  • Conserve 30 percent of America’s land and water by 2030
  • Ban new oil and gas permits on public lands, develop renewables on public land, and double offshore wind farms by 2030
  • Pay for the plan by rolling back the Trump tax plan, which significantly cut taxes for the wealthiest Americans and corporations

Reuters has called his plan a “middle ground” and former candidate and current Governor of Washington Jay Inslee described the plan as “too late” at the last debate. Inslee, whose entire campaign was based around tackling climate change, said to Biden, “The time is up! Our house is on fire. We have to stop using coal in 10 years, and we need a president to do it or it won’t get done.”

Cory Booker

While environmental justice is one of Booker’s core American Leadership platforms on his campaign website, it took him a bit longer than other candidates to address climate change in a meaningful way. Early on Tuesday, September 3, Booker released a $3 trillion plan to create a 100 percent clean energy economy in two decades. His goal is to be completely carbon neutral by 2045. In addition to his ambitious platform, he recently introduced the Climate Stewardship Act of 2019 to the Senate in an attempt to shore up his climate change policy chops. The act would, if passed, focus on what Booker calls “nature-based” strategies to tackle climate change, such as planting 4 billion trees across the country by 2030 and 15 billion by 2050, investing $25 billion in a grant program that would incentivize “climate-friendly practices like rotational grazing and better soil management” for farmers and ranchers, and doubling funding for agricultural research programs.

Here’s what he plans on doing to address climate change:

  • Rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement (which he called “kindergarten” during the July debate)
  • Invest more than $3 trillion by 2030 in environmental justice, transitioning to a carbon neutral economy, and job creation
  • Invest $400 billion country-wide in “the basic research, applied research, and commercialization of clean energy technologies and solutions for hard-to-decarbonize sectors of the economy”
  • Invest more than $100 billion in pre-existing Department of Agriculture conservation programs to make farming and ranching more sustainable
  • Increase the Environmental Protection Agency’s power to go after polluters
  • Clean up all “orphaned” superfund sites (sites which were ready for clean-up but subsequently abandoned)
  • Clean up all abandoned mining sites and all former Department of Defense atomic sites
  • Require all new passenger vehicles to be emission-free by 2030
  • Rescind the Trump administration order to shrink national monuments, which made public land available for commercial use
  • End tax subsidies for the fossil fuel industry
  • Require all fossil fuel companies to stop methane leaks
  • ban all new offshore drilling leases
  • Create a climate dividend which will be progressive (in other words: it will benefit the poorest Americans the most)
  • Create an Environmental Justice Fund, which will run two grant programs (Environmental Justice Innovation Fund and Emergency Environmental Justice Action Program) to research and scale “evidence-based strategies” to implement environmental justice across the country
  • Increase staff tenfold at the EPA’s Environmental Justice Office and the External Civil Rights Enforcement Office
  • Rescind approval for both the Keystone Pipeline and the Dakota Access Pipeline, both of which are controversial projects that cut directly through sensitive native land
  • Replace all lead piping and make sure all U.S. households have adequate plumbing and wastewater systems
  • Plant 100 million trees in urban areas by 2030
  • Re-establish the CCC and create well-paying, climate change-focused jobs (similar to Buttigieg’s Climate Corps proposition)

More explicitly than any other candidate, Booker’s plan is focused on the most vulnerable Americans when it comes to climate change and not only transforming the economy to carbon neutral, but to secure and equitable.

Pete Buttigieg

Though outlets like Mother Jones are reporting that Buttigieg doesn’t have a climate change plan, he does. It’s just not very fleshed out. Here’s what Mayor Pete is proposing:

  • Rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement and come up with a global accord that will have more stringent goals
  • Implement the GND
  • Create a “carbon tax-and-dividend plan — taxing polluters and distributing that revenue as a dividend for individuals”
  • Create a national service corps (like AmeriCorps) with a branch called Climate Corps, which will incentivize young Americans to work volunteer programs tackling climate change-related issues
  • “Massively increase” research and development funds to study renewables and energy and carbon storage

Julián Castro

Despite the fact that he has not released a specific plan yet, according to PRI, climate change is “a major theme” of Castro’s campaign. You can see how climate change comes up in plans such as his “People First Housing” plan — unsurprising when you consider the fact that as former President Obama’s Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Castro oversaw massive investments in green housing and a “$1 billion grant program for innovative projects that aimed to make cities and towns more resilient to flooding and extreme weather.”

Here’s what the former HUD Secretary would do:

  • Rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement immediately upon being sworn in
  • Meet the goals established by the GND, including net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 and reducing carbon emissions to half of 2005 levels by 2030
  • Establish a $200 billion green infrastructure fund which would go toward building public transport infrastructure, energy efficiency building upgrades, modernizing the energy grid, improving water conservation, and more
  • Require carbon scoring in future government projects, which will, for example, require emissions goals for new federal housing projects
  • Make the Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery Assistance program (which helps disaster recovery) permanent
  • End fossil fuel extraction on federal lands
  • Per his animal welfare plan (called the “PAW Plan”), raise standards for factory farms, including minimum space requirement, to not only ensure the welfare of livestock but to guarantee the transition to sustainable farming practices

Kamala Harris

Harris is yet another candidate Mother Jones claims doesn’t have a climate plan but rather a “placeholder” with empty platitudes. But that doesn’t tell the whole story: according to Reuters, the Harris campaign is finalizing the details of the candidate’s climate change plan, which will “center on cracking down on fossil fuel companies and protecting poor neighborhoods from the worst impacts of global warming.” A core part of her plan — whose preliminary version promises to “Combat the Climate Crisis” — will draw on her experience as California Attorney General and San Francisco District Attorney. During her time as the San Francisco D.A., she created the country’s first Environmental Justice Unit, which prosecuted environmental crimes which disproportionately affect the poor, and as the California A.G., she frequently prosecuted polluters.

Here’s what we know so far about what she wants to do:

  • Immediately rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement
  • Implement the GND
  • Restore environmental health protections rolled back by the Trump administration
  • Put “a swift end to fossil fuels use”

Again, not heavy on the details — yet. Given Harris’s environmental record as a prosecutor, however, we’re waiting with bated breath.

Amy Klobuchar

Klobuchar is a GND co-sponsor and has taken the “No Fossil Fuel Money” pledge. She has previously outlined several propositions for how she would tackle climate change, but she released her official policy on Sunday, September 1. According to Politico, most of her $1 trillion policy would be carried out by federal agencies. Here’s what she would do:

  • Rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement
  • Reinstate Obama-era fuel standards and the Clean Power Plant (which would force coal mines into retirement) via the EPA
  • In the first 100 days, introduce legislation that “builds on the framework of the Green New Deal”: invest in green jobs and infrastructure, invest in climate research, create and invest in environmental justice programs which will help people (often the most vulnerable Americans) on the front lines of climate change
  • “Create state, local and private incentives for the immediate adoption and deployment of clean energy technology to reduce emissions, including the promotion of green manufacturing”
  • Reach net-zero emissions by 2050
  • Enforce higher standards for environmentally sound building codes and appliance standards
  • Carbon pricing (though she has yet to specify whether it would be cap-and-trade or a tax)

Her platform isn’t much more detailed that what she had outlined on her website before her September 1 roll-out, so we’ll be waiting to see if she feels the need to add anything else to the conversation during the September 4 CNN Town Hall on climate change.

Beto O’Rourke

At the end of April, O’Rourke unveiled a plan to tackle climate change. We wrote about it when it was first released, but here’s a quick run-down of what he’s proposing:

  • Rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement
  • Achieve net-zero emissions by 2050
  • Invest $5 trillion over 10 years in upgrading aging infrastructure
  • Ban hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), a synthetic greenhouse gas that is “9,000 times more potent” than carbon dioxide
  • Invest $250 billion in multidisciplinary research into solutions to climate change
  • Invest $650 billion in “direct capital in low-income housing grants for sustainable buildings, green transportation technology grants, and small business and start-up grants for new businesses tackling climate change-related issues”
  • Invest in pre-disaster mitigation and disaster relief

In other words: he plans on investing massively in technology that will help fight climate change, divesting from fossil fuels, updating infrastructure to make it more efficient and better equipped to handle our climate future, and investing heavily in protecting the communities that are most vulnerable to climate disasters.

Bernie Sanders

From the moment he announced his candidacy for the 2020 Democratic ticket, Sanders was a staunch supporter of the GND — with an important caveat: his plan would include “significantly more” details about how the GND would work. And now that his climate plan is out, we know that he wasn’t kidding. He’s proposing a “$16.3 trillion federal investment over 15 years in renewable energy and public infrastructure.”

Critics have called his plan unrealistic; one GOP spokesperson said it was a “fantasy land.” Here’s what he’s fantasizing about:

  • Declare climate change a national emergency
  • Rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement
  • Create a 100 percent renewable electric grid and transportation system by 2030
  • “Reduce domestic emissions by at least 71 percent by 2030 and reduce emissions among less industrialized nations by 36 percent by 2030”
  • Completely decarbonize the economy by 2050 “at the latest”
  • Create 20 million new well-paid, union jobs in the new energy sector, construction, steel and auto manufacturing, and more
  • Create a $40 billion Climate Justice Resiliency Fund for underserved communities on the front lines of climate change to prepare for and recover from climate disasters
  • Reinvest in the New Deal-era Civilian Conservation Corps and fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Corps “to provide good-paying jobs building green infrastructure”
  • Build a fifth Power Marketing Administration (a federal agency under the Department of Energy that operates electric systems and sells the output) in order to completely cover electric distribution in the U.S., and build wind, solar, energy storage and geothermal power plants in order to guarantee all Americans have democratic control over their power grids and guarantee the transition to renewable energy
  • Spend $526 billion on “a modern, high-volt, underground, renewable, direct current, smart, electric transmission and distribution grid” to ensure a safe transition to a modern power grid
  • Prosecute fossil fuel companies responsible for environmental disasters
  • End Trump tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations in order to partially fund the bill

Per the Sanders campaign, despite the hefty price tag, this plan would pay for itself — thanks to high-paying job creation and taxes on the wealthy — in approximately 15 years.

Elizabeth Warren

Ever the overachiever, Warren has released five climate change plans over the course of her candidacy, according to Vox. Her plans “counter growing greenhouse gas emissions and rising average temperatures through policies for public lands, the military, trade, climate risk disclosure, and US manufacturing.”

Here’s a run-down of what she would do:

  • Rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement
  • Implement the GND
  • Invest $2 trillion in the research and manufacturing of clean energy technology broken down into $400 billion for research and a $1.5 trillion, 10-year commitment to “purchase American-made clean, renewable, and emission-free energy products for federal, state, and local use, and for export”
  • Create a federal office dedicated to selling and deploying American-made renewable, efficient, and emission-free energy technology around the world
  • Require the Pentagon to achieve net-zero emissions at all non-combat bases and for all infrastructure by 2030
  • Require all Department of Defense contractors who do not have net-zero emissions to pay a one percent fee on the total value of the contract
  • Create a 10-year research program at the DOD to study microgrids and advanced energy storage
  • Outlaw drilling on public lands
  • Provide 10 percent of American electricity generation from renewable sources either offshore or on public lands
  • Make spending for the Land and Water Conservation Fund mandatory in order to protect public lands
  • Undo the Trump administration’s decision to open key public lands to drilling and mining
  • Create a new supply management program for farmers which will promote sustainable farming practices
  • Decarbonize the agricultural sector by increasing spending from $1 billion to $15 billion in grants and tax relief measure for farmers and ranchers practicing sustainable farming
  • Require publicly traded companies to disclose any climate-related risks, including the “likely effect on the company if climate change continues at its current pace and the likely effect on the company if the world successfully restricts greenhouse gas emissions to meet the targets of the Paris Agreement”

Andrew Yang

Yang is perhaps best known for proposing a universal basic income to combat the increasing automation which is directly threatening American jobs. He is not, however, known for his climate change policy, which The Atlantic called “horrific.” (At a debate, he said of climate change, “We are too late. We are ten years too late.” He then proposed making sure Americans have enough economic flexibility to move their families to higher ground. Yikes.)

Here’s what he’s proposing:

  • Invest in “carbon capture and geoengineering technologies” to reverse the damage already done by climate change
  • End tax benefits for fossil fuel companies
  • “[A]ppoint an action-oriented leader of the EPA and direct the EPA to regulate carbon emissions”
  • Institute an emissions tax
  • Invest in sustainable infrastructure and urban development
  • Create a carbon fee and dividend program which will tax companies $40 for every ton of carbon dioxide they create, the price of which would “increase at regular intervals”

Needless to say, climate change does not appear to be Yang’s strong suit.


Donald Trump

Current President Donald Trump does not believe in climate change and, in fact, shows a complete lack of understanding when it comes to how climate change works. During the arctic freeze in January 2019, he tweeted “Wouldn’t be bad to have a little of that good old fashioned Global Warming right now.” This isn’t just a one-off, off-color joke but part of a larger trend. (At last count, we tallied 77 tweets about “global warming”, and 39 tweets about “climate change.”) Perhaps more concerning: his administration has rolled back numerous environmental protections and intentionally buried research showing the effects of climate change. Most recently, on Thursday, August 29, the EPA announced that they would be rolling back regulations on methane, a powerful greenhouse gas and one of the chief contributors to the warming of the planet.

Needless to say, he does not have a climate change policy.


With a few rather spectacular exceptions, candidates have, by and large, reached a consensus around rejoining the Paris Climate Accord and subsequently passing the Green New Deal. Those seem to be the baseline for most candidates. Your preferences, when you get into the voting booth, largely depend on how bad your climate anxiety and willingness to completely overhaul the entire U.S. economy are.