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The Candidates on Climate Change

September 11, 2008

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Issue Trackers trace the positions of candidates from the 2008 presidential campaign on major issues related to foreign policy.

The debate on climate change reached a new intensity as the presidential campaign season got underway. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released the first part of an assessment report in February 2007 that said human activity is “very likely” accountable for climate change and immediate action to stabilize greenhouse gas emissions is necessary. A fourth part of the report, released in May 2007, said the rise in global carbon emissions would need to cease by 2015 to stabilize global temperatures. Democratic candidates seized on the reports as evidence of a need for federal action on carbon emissions. Most Republican candidates, excepting Sen. John McCain, have been wary of embracing federally mandated controls on emissions.

Democratic Ticket on Climate Change

Barack Obama
Democratic Party Nominee - President

Obama views climate change as an "epochal, man-made threat to the planet" (Foreign Affairs) and vows to lead an international coalition to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Obama has said he will try to ensure (PDF) "that our nation's environmental laws and policies balance America's need for a healthy, sustainable environment with economic growth."

Obama has called for a market-based cap-and-trade system to reduce carbon emissions. He has said that if he is elected he would invest $150 billion over ten years to advance clean energy technology. He has also said he would doubly increase fuel economy standards within 18 years by providing tax credits and loan guarantees for U.S. auto plants and parts manufacturers for building more fuel efficient cars.

Obama cosponsored the Climate Stewardship and Innovation Act of 2007, which would establish a "Climate Change Credit Corporation" to manage tradeable allowances and stimulate the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. That bill has not yet been voted on. With Hillary Clinton, Obama also signed on as a cosponsor of the Global Warming Pollution Reduction Act in 2007. Obama missed the June 2008 vote on the Climate Security Act of 2008, but called the legislation "critical and long overdue." Still, he said, the bill could be improved. "We must ensure that more middle-class families reap more of the financial benefits created by this bill," he said in a statement. " And we must direct greater resources to the regions of the country that will bear the brunt of this critical transition to a clean energy economy."

Obama's proposals for climate change can be viewed here.

Click here for this candidate's position on other top foreign policy issues.

Joseph R. Biden Jr.
Democratic Party Nominee - Vice President

Sen. Biden (D-DE) has been a prominent voice calling for legislation to stop climate change. In February 2007, after the release of the IPCC report, Biden urged fellow lawmakers and President Bush to take action, saying, "We have wasted the past six years on the sidelines of international negotiations and our leadership is needed to produce a global solution."

In July 2008, Biden sponsored legislation to create an "International Clean Technology Deployment Fund" to help developing countries fight climate change. That bill has not yet reached a vote.

Biden cosponsored the Clean Power Act of 2005, a bill which would have implemented a cap-and-trade system to reduce carbon dioxide emissions had it become law. With Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-IN), Biden has proposed two Senate resolutions on climate change. They put forward the Lugar-Biden Climate Change Resolution (PDF), passed by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in May 2006. More recently, Biden and Lugar proposed Senate Resolution 30, which calls for the United States to comply with the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and to establish a "bipartisan Senate observer group" to monitor international climate change negotiations.

Click here for this candidate's position on other top foreign policy issues.

Republican Ticket on Climate Change

John McCain
Republican Party Nominee - President

Sen. McCain (R-AZ) has been one of the most outspoken members of Congress on the issue of climate change. With Sen. Joe Lieberman (ID-CT), McCain introduced the Climate Stewardship Act in 2003, which failed. Still, climate change expert Bill McKibben said this act was crucial (OnEarth Magazine) in that McCain "managed to force the first real Senate vote on actually doing something about the largest environmental peril our species has yet faced." In 2007 he reintroduced the act, with bipartisan cosponsorship. The bill, McCain and Lieberman wrote in a February 2007 editorial, "would harness the power of the free market and the engine of American innovation to reduce the nation's greenhouse gas emissions substantially enough and quickly enough to forestall catastrophic global warming." (BosGlobe)

In a March 2008 speech, McCain called for a "successor to the Kyoto Treaty" and a cap-and-trade system " that delivers the necessary environmental impact in an economically responsible manner." Small businesses would be exempt from his cap-and-trade proposal. McCain also advocates auctioning emissions permits to help fund development of "research and commercialization challenges, ranging from carbon capture and sequestration, to nuclear power, to battery development."

McCain's climate policy includes several target dates for emission reductions. By 2012, McCain says U.S. emissions should return to 2005 levels. By 2050, he says, the U.S. emissions should be 60 percent below 1990 levels.

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Sarah Palin
Republican Party Nominee - Vice President

Palin has said she is not sure human behavior causes climate change (Newsmax), but said in a September 2008 interview with ABC News that human activity "certainly can be contributing to the issue" and that "we have to make sure that we're doing all we can to cut down on pollution." In September 2007, Palin created a subcabinet state agency in Alaska to advise her on the "preparation and implementation of an Alaska climate change strategy." Changes to the environment "will affect Alaska more than any other state, because of our location," Palin said in August 2008.

Palin opposed adding polar bears threatened by melting sea ice to the government’s list of species to be protected under the Endangered Species Act, saying there is "insufficient evidence that polar bears are in danger of becoming extinct within the foreseeable future" (NYT). She opposed efforts by environmental groups to use the designation of polar bears as an endangered species to "force the government to either stop or severely limit any public or private action that produces, or even allows, the production of greenhouse gases." In a January 2008 New York Times op-ed she wrote that the Endangered Species Act is "not the correct tool to address climate change—the act itself actually prohibits any consideration of broader issues."

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Democratic Primary Candidates on Climate Change

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Democratic Primary Candidate

Sen. Clinton (D-NY), who sits on the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, has generally advocated for legislation to stop climate change. In a statement upon the release of the IPCC report in February, Clinton said, “I believe that action is both an environmental necessity and an economic opportunity.” She cosponsored the Climate Stewardship and Innovation Act of 2007, which would cut carbon emissions by 30 percent from 2000 to 2050 with a system of “tradable allowances.” In this video, Clinton says she wants to create a program modeled on the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to deal with the threat of climate change.

Clinton signed on to the Global Warming Pollution Reduction Act, which would have created a “market-based framework” to reduce carbon emissions. That act was referred to the Committee on Environment and Public Works in early 2007 and has not yet been passed.

In April 2008, Clinton signed a letter to the Chair and Ranking Member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior and Related Agencies calling for an investment of $70 million for the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act (DERA) and $270.3 million for state and local air quality grants. The letter said such an investment would "go a long way toward helping states and localities meet the nation's clear air standards by encouraging the use of cost-effective emissions reduction strategies."

Editor's Note: Sen. Clinton withdrew her candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination on June 7, 2008.

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Christopher J. Dodd
Democratic Primary Candidate

Sen. Dodd (D-CT) says he supports legislation that would reduce emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. Dodd cosponsored the Clean Power Act of 2005, which would implement a cap-and-trade system to reduce carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and sulfur dioxide emissions. That bill never became law. Dodd is a cosponsor of the Global Warming Pollution Reduction Act.

Editor's Note: Sen. Dodd withdrew his candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination on January 3, 2008.

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John Edwards
Democratic Primary Candidate

Edwards’ campaign was the first to announce that it is completely carbon neutral (Portsmouth Herald), with a portion of the campaign budget used to purchase carbon offsets that support alternative energy production and combat the impact of climate change. The League of Conservation Voters has called Edwards’ plan to combat climate change, which would impose a cap that would reduce emissions by 80 percent by 2050, “the most comprehensive global warming plan of any presidential candidate to date.” He discusses that plan in this CNN interview, saying “We can reduce dependence on electricity by 25 percent by the year 2025. We can actually create incentives—tax incentives and subsidies so that people use higher levels of conservation, use more energy efficient technologies in their homes and in their offices.”

Edwards also plans to implement a "Green Collar Jobs" initiative that would train 150,000 workers a year for jobs in "the new energy economy."

Editor's note: Edwards dropped out of the race for the Democratic nomination on January 30, 2008.

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Mike Gravel
Democratic Primary Candidate

Gravel has called climate change “an issue of national security” and advocates immediate legislation capping carbon emissions. But, he says, “Any legislation will have little impact on the global environment if we do not work together with other global polluters.” He has called for a carbon tax.

In an August 2007 interview with Grist.org, Gravel criticized cap-and-trade programs, which he said will not necessarily lower emissions. He also said he would raise CAFE standards to European levels within three to five years.

Editor's Note: Mike Gravel ended his bid for the Democraticnomination on March 26, 2008. He then ran for the LibertarianParty's presidential nomination before announcing the end ofhis political career on May 25, 2008.

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Dennis Kucinich
Democratic Primary Candidate

Rep. Kucinich (D-OH) has been one of the leading voices for legislation to stop climate change for the past several years. In this interview with the BBC, Kucinich says the United States has a “moral responsibility to lead on the issue of climate change, since we create so many greenhouse gases here, and have a very large carbon footprint." He has criticized President Bush’s refusal to sign the Kyoto Protocol, the 1997 addendum to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change that sets environmental goals and obligations for its signatories to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and five other greenhouse gases. In 2004, Kucinich was the only member of Congress to attend the Conference of Parties (COP 10) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Argentina. Kucinich cosponsored the Clean Smokestacks Act in 2005, which would reduce pollutant emissions, including carbon dioxide, from power plants. That act has yet to be passed.

Editor's Note: Rep. Kucinich withdrew his candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination on January 25, 2008.

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Bill Richardson
Democratic Primary Candidate

The former secretary of energy says that reduction of carbon emissions should be mandated. As governor of New Mexico, he entered his state into a five-state agreement that includes Arizona, California, Oregon, and Washington, to lower greenhouse gases regionally (Albuquerque Tribune). “In New Mexico, we’re the first state that followed the Kyoto Treaty. Maybe our country isn’t, but we did,” Richardson said at a campaign stop in Iowa in February 2007.

Editor's Note: Richardson withdrew his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination on January 10, 2008.

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Republican Primary Candidates on Climate Change

Sam Brownback
Republican Primary Candidate

In an interview with U.S. News and World Report, Sen. Brownback (R-KS) said the United States should “do everything we can without killing the economy to reduce CO2 in the atmosphere.” But, he said, he would not be in favor of a cap-and-trade system that would require manufacturers to reduce emissions, because he fears that such a measure could not be “effective without substantially harming the economy.”

In 2001, Brownback proposed the Domestic Carbon Conservation Incentive Act, which, he said, would fight climate change by rewarding farmers for conserving production of soil carbon. He also introduced the International Carbon Conservation Act in 2001, which would create a carbon sequestration program and a panel within the Department of Commerce “to enhance international conservation.” Neither of these bills passed.

Editor's Note: Sen. Brownback withdrew his candidacy for the GOP presidential nomination on October 19, 2007.

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James S. Gilmore
Republican Primary Candidate

Gilmore’s stance on this issue is unknown.

Editor's note: Gilmore withdrew his candidacy for the Republican nomination in July 2007.

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Rudy Giuliani
Republican Primary Candidate

Giuliani has said he believes climate change exists (SFChron) and that something must be done to reduce pollution. However, he has not said outright that he believes climate change is caused by human activity . His statements with regard to policy on the issue have been rather vague.

Editor's note: Giuliani dropped out of the race for the Republican nomination on January 31, 2008.

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Mike Huckabee
Republican Primary Candidate

When asked about his opinion on climate change in a March 2007 interview with Newsweek, Huckabee said, “It’s a spiritual issue. [The earth] belongs to God. I have no right to destroy it.” In another interview, Huckabee got more specific, saying, “We ought to be moving rapidly towards energy sources that don’t have a greenhouse gas effect. Aggressively set the goal that within a ten-year period, we should move a way from a fossil fuel culture to one that has alternative energy resources” (Denver Post).

Huckabee also says he supports a mandatory cap-and-trade system to limit greenhouse gas emissions (Bloomberg).

Editor's Note: Huckabee withdrew his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination on March 4, 2008.

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Duncan Hunter
Republican Primary Candidate

Hunter’s stance on this issue is unknown.

Editor's note: Hunter dropped out of the race for the Republican nomination on January 19, 2008.

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Ron Paul
Republican Primary Candidate

Rep. Paul (R-TX) believes "the key to sound environmental policy is respect for private property rights," according to his campaign website. He says the free market prohibits pollution of one's "neighbor's land, air, or water." Paul acknowledges that "some" of climate change is related to human activity, but, he warns, it is extreme "to assume we have to close down everything in this country and in the world because there's a fear that we're going to have this global warming and that we're going to be swallowed up by the oceans," he told Grist in October 2007.

Paul opposes the Kyoto treaty and a carbon tax. He is also critical of the Environmental Protection Agency. "It's a bureaucratic, intrusive approach and it favors those who have political connections."

Editor's Note: Rep. Paul withdrew his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination on June 12, 2008.

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Mitt Romney
Republican Primary Candidate

Until recently, Romney largely avoided stating his opinion as to whether or not climate change exists or is caused by humans, according to a 2004 Boston Globe article. Since beginning his presidential campaign, however, Romney became more willing to concede that "climate change is occurring" and that human activity is a contributing factor.

As Massachusetts governor, Romney introduced his Climate Protection Plan in 2004, which "encourages private citizens and requires state agencies and the state's large businesses to reduce carbon dioxide emissions." As governor, he also refused (BosGlobe) to enter with other northeastern states into a pact, known as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative to curb carbon emissions because it did not provide for price controls to curb energy costs.

Editor's note: Romney dropped out of the race for the Republican nomination on February 7, 2008.

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Tom Tancredo
Republican Primary Candidate

Rep. Tancredo's (R-CO) has said he has "no doubt that global warming exists." Tancredo told TIME immigration is responsible for climate change. "Americans consume more energy than anyone else, so if a person moves here from another country, they automatically become bigger polluters," he said.

Editor's Note: Congressman Tancredo formally withdrew his candidacy for the GOP presidential nomination on December 20, 2007.

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Fred Thompson
Republican Primary Candidate

Thompson is a climate change skeptic. Although he does not appear to believe evidence that climate change is caused by human activity, he concedes, "it makes sense to take reasonable steps to reduce CO2 emissions without harming our economy." Though he has not indicated any specific environmental policy views, he says he supports "research and development into technologies that improve the environment, especially the reduction of CO2 emissions."

In a March 2007 National Review commentary, Thompson pointed to evidence that Mars and Jupiter are also experiencing warming. “This has led some people, not necessarily scientists, to wonder if Mars and Jupiter, non-signatories to the Kyoto Treaty, are actually inhabited by alien SUV-driving industrialists who run their air-conditioning at 60 degrees and refuse to recycle,” he noted sarcastically.

Thompson has not released an environmental platform.

Editor's note: Thompson dropped out of the race for the Republican nomination on January 22, 2008.

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Tommy Thompson
Republican Primary Candidate

His campaign website says the United States “must aggressively take on global warming—a goal that can be accomplished in a manner that doesn’t provide false choices between environmental stewardship and economic progress.” Other than that, however, his specific plan for confronting climate change is unknown.

Editor's note: Thompson dropped out of the race for the Republican nomination on August 12, 2007.

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