Bernie Sanders has laid out an ambitious 10-year, $16.3tn national mobilization to avert climate catastrophe, warning that the US risks losing $34.5tn in economic productivity by the end of the century if it does not respond with the urgency the threat demands.
The Vermont senator has long spoken of the climate crisis as a existential danger to the US and the world, and he has previously endorsed a Green New Deal, which he put forward with the New York congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Sanders will formally unveil his proposal on Thursday during a campaign visit to Paradise, California, a town that was destroyed in 2018 by one of the deadliest wildfires in US history. After the tour, the senator will hold a climate change town hall in Chico, California.
Sanders follows several other Democratic candidates in releasing a specific proposal for limiting the pollution from cars, power plants and other human activities that are heating the planet. Yet his proposal is much more aggressive than other candidates’ – and far beyond what Barack Obama aimed to achieve during his presidency.
His goal is to eliminate US carbon emissions by 2050, a target laid out by scientists with the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. He says he would create millions of jobs and rally the world’s leaders to join forces in the fight against climate change.
Sanders’ plan would reach for 100% renewable power for both electricity and transportation, the top two contributors to climate change in the US, by 2030 – aiming for complete decarbonization by 2050.
By comparison, Joe Biden, the former vice-president and currently the top-polling Democratic candidate, has proposed spending $1.7tn to neutralize the country’s carbon emissions by 2050. Senator Elizabeth Warren has introduced a $2tn “green manufacturing plan” that would invest in renewable industries and create a National Institutes of Clean Energy.
And while Biden and other candidates have pledged to make the US carbon neutral by 2050, they stop short of aiming for complete decarbonization. Carbon neutrality could allow some emissions, as long as they are offset by pollution cuts elsewhere.
Jay Inslee, the Washington state governor who dropped out of the presidential race on Wednesday night, was perhaps the only candidate whose climate change plan was more extensive. Inslee had made climate change the centerpiece of his 2020 campaign, calling for a $9tn investment in green jobs over 10 years and vowed to make the US carbon neutral by 2045.
In a summary of Sanders’ plan, his campaign compares the scale of the challenges the US is facing to the 1940s, when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt “within three short years restructured the entire economy in order to win the war and defeat fascism”. The Green New Deal draws its name from Roosevelt’s New Deal economic programs that helped lead the nation out of the Great Depression.
Sanders has struggled to break through in a crowded primary field. National public opinion polls consistently show Sanders vying for second place with Warren, who has gained ground with a stream of meaty policy proposals. His campaign sees the proposal as a way to stake out the most leftwing and ambitious plan on an issue that Democratic voters say is a top priority.
A CNN poll in April found that 96% of Democrats favor taking “aggressive action” to combat global warming while a CBS News survey found that 78% of Democrats in the early voting states said climate change was a “very important” issue.
Sanders says the plan will pay for itself over 15 years, including by “making the fossil fuel industry pay for their pollution, through litigation, fees, and taxes, and eliminating federal fossil fuel subsidies”. He wants to cut emissions made in the US as well as some produced in developing countries.
His campaign says he would “reduce domestic emissions by at least 71% by 2030 and reduce emissions in the non-China global south by 36% by 2030 – the total equivalent of reducing our domestic emissions by 161%.”
He promises to “end unemployment” by creating 20m new jobs. He would also lead international climate efforts, declare climate change a national emergency and pay $200bn into the Green Climate Fund for countries to slash pollution.
He also commits to a fair transition for workers and wants to expand the climate justice movement to prioritize “young people, workers, indigenous peoples, communities of color, and other historically marginalized groups”.
While the Green New Deal has become a rallying cry for Democrats and has been endorsed by several presidential candidates, the plan poses political risks. Republicans have seized on it as a way of demonizing the party as radical socialists. But by ignoring the issue, Republicans also risk turning off young people who overwhelmingly support action on climate change.
The issue will take center stage next month at a town hall and forum focused on climate change.
After months of pressure from progressive organizations and some Democratic hopefuls, CNN announced that it would host a climate change town hall with those 2020 candidates who qualify for the September primary debate. Ten Democrats have qualified for the event on 4 September.
Later that month, MSNBC will co-host a multi-day climate change forum with Georgetown Institute of Politics and Public Service and Our Daily Planet. All of the 2020 presidential candidates from both major parties have been invited to participate.