Recent years have seen stark warnings from the scientific community that climate change and its effects are approaching faster than previously understood. The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has concluded that nations must move more swiftly to slash emissions of carbon dioxide, methane, and other greenhouse gasses to avoid the most devastating effects of global warming. As the world continues to warm at an alarming rate, the probability of severe storms, drought, and other extreme weather is increasing. Experts warn that shifting climate patterns will spark mass migration, increase the spread of disease, and contribute to food and water shortages. Already, the U.S. military has started preparing for threats to national security that will come with a destabilized world.
But the way forward is hotly debated. In recent decades, U.S. policymakers have sought to weigh reducing emissions with concerns about the overall costs of doing so. Some are also concerned about how to encourage the expansion of the domestic fossil fuel industry to create jobs, lower energy prices, and reduce U.S. reliance on foreign energy. The Barack Obama administration, leaning on executive action in the face of congressional gridlock, launched new emissions regulations on power plants, implemented stronger vehicle emissions standards, and signed on to the Paris Agreement, which commits countries to emissions-cutting targets to keep warming well within 2°C below preindustrial levels.
President Donald J. Trump has publicly expressed doubts about human-caused climate change and champions fossil fuels, withdrawing the United States from the Paris Agreement and seeking to roll back Obama-era environmental regulations. Almost all Democratic candidates, by contrast, have put forth ambitious goals to rapidly shift the economy away from fossil fuels. The 2020 election will influence how far the next Congress will go to address climate change and what kinds of executive actions the next president will use to define energy policy.