Debating climate change during the US presidential elections

With the upcoming presidential elections in November 2016, all eyes are on the United States and the ideological fight between the Republican and the Democratic parties. Interesting enough, one of the most striking differences between the three remaining presidential candidates is their attitude towards climate change and energy production.

Presidential elections

Source : EPA ®

The USA: worldwide climate leader, but for how long?

Barack Obama is the first American president to tackle the climate change issue as a policy priority. It is thanks to the work done by his office that the USA is now a worldwide climate leader. But what stand do the remaining three presidential candidates in 2016 take on the issue of climate change and transitioning to clear energy?

Republican Party: Donald Trump and the climate change conspiracy

It is an unspoken rule that the Republican Party never speaks about climate change during presidential debates. And this comes as no surprise since 68% of Republicans say they do not believe in the existence of human-caused global warming, Donald Trump being one of them.

During the COP21, when Obama said that global warming is today’s n° 1 problem, Trump’s criticised that this was “one of the dumbest statements [he has] ever heard […] in the history of politics ever”. In fact, Trump has a rather simplistic vision on climate change that he sees as a conspiracy developed by the Chinese in order to sell more solar panels and windmills, thus boosting their economy and sabotaging the US. He also plans on cutting publicly financed investments in wind and solar power.

Democratic Party: Hillary Clinton and the careful transitioning to clean energy

Next to Trump, Hillary Clinton stands out as someone rather realistic when it comes to climate change. Clinton recognises the existence and urgency of climate change, as well as the need to transition to renewable energy. One of the priorities of her campaign is thus to modernise the American energy infrastructure.

However, she is very cautious in her pledges. For instance, while reducing coal dependency is a prime action on Clinton’s climate plan, so is investing in new nuclear power plants, as well as natural gas. Furthermore, where Clinton displeases almost all environmentalists is when she defines natural gas as a “bridge fuel” and as an important aspect of the shift to green energy.

Democratic Party: Bernie Sanders and the ambitious plan to tackle climate change

Finally, there is Democrat Bernie Sanders who has by far the most ambitious plan to combat global warming. Criticised as unrealistic by Hillary Clinton, Sanders sees a 100% clean energy America by 2050. He promises to phase-out nuclear power plants, to ban drilling and fracking, as well as mountaintop removal coal mining nationwide. Sander’s climate plan vows to help workers from the fossil fuel industry move to the clean energy industry and also to create over a million jobs in the latter.

Sanders also assures he will increase low-income families’ access to solar energy, making it more easily accessible by heavy public investments. Bernie Sanders is thus the first candidate in the history of American presidential elections who has a climate plan as progressive as his.

While debating the climate plans of the presidential candidates, let’s remember that because of the existing international agreements (notably the Paris agreement) the issue of the US presidential elections will heavily influence not only the American economy and energy industry, but also the future of the fight against global warming around the globe.



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