Climate change is poised to be a big issue for voters in the 2020 presidential election, but the current Democratic candidate roster may prove to be disappointing on that front. In a new report card that assesses the candidates on their climate action plans, the highest grade awarded was a measly C+.
The climate report card, created by Build a Movement 2020, graded the Democratic presidential hopefuls on four commitments: to declaring a climate emergency once president; to achieving net-zero CO2 emissions by 2030; to removing 1 trillion tons of CO2 by 2050; and to Climate Restoration Emergency Action, a plan to mobilize global effort to ensure humanity’s survival. Build a Movement is a coalition of activists that aims to ensure the survival of the human species and rebuild democracy. Its founder, Paul Zeitz, is currently a senior policy adviser at the Foundation for Climate Restoration and has worked on sustainable development and global health for the past 25 years.
Of the Democratic candidates now leading in the polls—Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, and Pete Buttigieg—the highest grade went to Sanders, but his plan received just a C+. Though he has proposed a $16.3 trillion climate plan he called “extremely bold and extremely aggressive,” that still didn’t cut it for Zeitz (and the others from the Foundation for Climate Restoration, ClimateChangesEverything.org, and the Fletcher School at Tufts University, who made up the report card’s advisory committee).
“It’s all very disappointing and sad, actually,” says Zeitz. “It’s not about the amount of money. It’s about the goals you’re trying to achieve.” Goals such as achieving net-zero CO2 emissions by 2030. Though a few candidates say we can get there by 2050, and California has pledged to do so by 2045, that’s still too slow, Zeitz says. “‘How fast can we get there?’ is the question.”
Biden, Warren, and Buttegieg all received Cs, and a few of the trailing candidates made it to Sanders’s level, with Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, and Tom Steyer earning a C+ as well. Trump was on the report card too, with the lowest grade, an F.
So what would it take to earn an A? “An A would look like a candidate who would commit to use the presidency to declare a climate emergency and use all the powers that go along with that,” says Zeitz. “An A president would commit to achieving net-zero CO2 emissions by 2030, which would be a very ambitious agenda.”
These are lofty goals, he says, but necessary ones. Though he notes we have already crossed the tipping point into a climate emergency, there’s still hope. “There’s a mass extinction underway, and the fundamental question is, ‘Can humanity, can the human beings, survive an unresponded-to climate emergency?’ And the answer is if we mobilize aggressively and actively on these things—net zero by 2030, removing 1,000 gigatons of CO2 from the atmosphere, and Climate Restoration Emergency Action—we can actually win the battle against climate change. It will only happen if people understand that there is a pathway for success here.”
For three-quarters of Iowa’s likely Democratic voters, it’s important that presidential candidates recognize climate change as the “greatest threat to humanity,” according to a CNN poll. With such an important role in the 2020 presidential race, Zeitz wants to let those voters know “that they should be demanding more from all of our candidates.”