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Donald Trump and Joe Biden pin badges, pictured of the USA flag.
Donald Trump and Joe Biden pin badges, pictured on the USA flag. Credit: Chris Dorney / Alamy Stock Photo.
29 September 2020 14:39

US election tracker 2020: Democrats and Republicans on energy and climate

Josh Gabbatiss


Josh Gabbatiss

29.09.2020 | 2:39pm
US PolicyUS election tracker 2020: Democrats and Republicans on energy and climate

On 3 November, US voters will decide whether to keep Donald Trump in the White House for another four years or replace him with Joe Biden.

The result will have a significant bearing on US climate and energy policy, as well as the chances of international warming targets being met. 

It will be particularly stark given the Republican incumbent’s climate scepticism and his withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, a decision that is formally set to come into effect the day after the election.

His Democratic challenger has pledged to remain part of the agreement and begin a “clean energy revolution” in the US to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.

(Update 10/11/2020: After a tight election, Joe Biden has emerged victorious as the new US president. He has pledged to immediately re-join the Paris Agreement and his climate and energy plan, outlined in this piece, has been broadly welcomed by the international climate change community.)

In the table above, Carbon Brief has drawn together official documents, recent speeches and statements made in the media by each presidential candidate, their affiliated party and their vice presidential pick and some of their key advisors.

Biden has released wide-ranging climate and energy plans that focus heavily on “environmental justice” for climate-vulnerable communities and fossil-fuel workers affected by his “revolution”.

His running mate, Kamala Harris, has expressed strong views on climate action and is a prominent supporter of the Green New Deal.

The Democrats have also laid out their party lines in a “platform”, the US equivalent of a manifesto.

By contrast, there have been no formal statements regarding Trump’s energy and climate policies, beyond a bullet-pointed list of second-term agenda items including a commitment to continue the “deregulatory agenda for energy independence”.

However, this does not mean the president is overlooking this topic entirely. His campaigning has included plenty of rhetoric about the success of the US oil-and-gas sector, as well as criticism of his opponent’s supposed shortcomings. 

Vice president Mike Pence also has a history of climate scepticism and has used his position to trumpet the administration’s actions to support the fossil-fuel economy.

In an unconventional move, the Republicans have opted not to produce a new platform for 2020, but to simply reuse their platform from 2016, written before Trump became president. 

Therefore, it includes references to the policies of his predecessor, Barack Obama, and does not address recent events. 

There have been some notable changes in rhetoric since the last election, which Carbon Brief also covered

For example, Biden, who was not initially regarded as the most progressive Democratic candidate on climate change, has embraced an agenda that is seen as far more ambitious than Hillary Clinton’s 2016 platform.

Trump has claimed victories in the energy sector as part of his “war on red tape”, but commentators have noted that, while coal was central to his first presidential bid, the struggling industry is no longer a focus in his speeches.

In the build up to the election, the table above will be updated as the candidates reveal more about their positions on key topics.

On 30 September, the first presidential debate saw Biden and Trump clash over climate change, with both defending their records and energy policies.

Referencing the California wildfires, Trump’s rollbacks of Obama-era environmental regulations and withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Fox News anchor Chris Wallace asked the president what he thought about the science of climate change.

He then asked: “Do you believe that human pollution…and greenhouse gases, contribute to global warming?”. This marked the first time since 2008 a presidential debate moderator had asked about climate change.

Trump’s response – that “I think a lot of things do, but I think, to an extent, yes” – was also reportedly the first time he has, in any way, acknowledged that climate change is caused by human emissions.

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As this Carbon Brief analysis explains, scientists think 100% of warming since 1950 is the result of human activities.

A New York Times factcheck of the debate reports the president showed “a willingness to lie, exaggerate and mislead”, noting his claim that poor forest management is to blame for this year’s wildfires as one example. It described Biden’s statement that he had helped make renewables cheaper than, or as cheap as coal and gas as “mostly true”.

After an uncertain week that saw the president and several members of his inner circle test positive for Covid-19, Pence and Harris met in a vice-presidential debate on 7 October.

Climate change came under the spotlight again, with Pence expressing doubt about its causes and saying “climate alarmists” were using hurricanes and wildfires to “try and sell the Green New Deal”.

Harris refuted Pence’s claim that she and Biden intended to ban fracking. While Harris has expressed opposition to fracking in the past, Biden has stated he has no intention of banning the practice. 

Once again, a New York Times factcheck noted that the Republican representative employed “false, misleading or exaggerated statements” when discussing climate change.

On 22 October, Trump and Biden met in their final live TV debate ahead of the election and engaged in the “lengthiest exchange two presidential candidates have ever had” about climate change, according to the Washington Post.

This also meant that, for the first time in history, the topic had been discussed in every one of the pre-election debates.

Neither candidate strayed far from previous comments they had already made on the subject. Biden emphasised the ability of his climate plan to create jobs while Trump dismissed the strategy as a “pipe dream”.

The president said his challenger’s proposals would cost $100tn, a contentious figure sometimes attached to the “green new deal”, not Biden’s plan. In fact, the Democratic candidate has said he would, if elected, spend $2tn over four years on clean energy and infrastructure.

In an exchange that lasted nearly 12 minutes, Trump asked his opponent if he would “close down the oil industry”, to which Biden replied that he would “transition [to it]…because the oil industry pollutes, significantly”.

Trump picked up on this response and asked: “Will you remember that, Texas? Will you remember that, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma?” 

Pennsylvania, in particular, has emerged as a key battleground in the election due, in part, to its fossil fuel industry, with the Republican side repeatedly claiming that Biden intends to “ban” fracking. Once again in this debate, Biden stated he would continue fracking to help “transition to only net-zero emissions”.

This article was updated on 30 September, 8 October and 23 October 2020 to include comments made during the presidential and vice-presidential debates.

Sharelines from this story
  • US election tracker 2020: Democrats and Republicans on energy and climate
  • What are Democrats and Republicans saying about climate and energy?

Expert analysis direct to your inbox.

Get a round-up of all the important articles and papers selected by Carbon Brief by email. Find out more about our newsletters here.