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Climate change is one of the most divisive issues in the US. How do Joe Biden and Donald Trump compare?

How do Donald Trump and Joe Biden compare on climate policies? Source: AP

Action on climate change divides on party lines in the United States. As the election nears, the two presidential candidates have opposing stances.

The 2020 US presidential race has been pinned as America’s “climate change election”.

Last year global climate change was ranked as the most polarising issue for American voters, according to a Pew Research Centre survey from July.

In the survey, 84 per cent of Democrats said they viewed climate change as a major threat to the wellbeing of the United States - more than cyberattacks from other countries, China’s growing influence, or terrorism.

But only 27 per cent of Republicans deemed it a major threat - the lowest-ranked of all the major issues.

The coronavirus pandemic has since changed the focus of the election. However, California's recent bushfire crisis has drawn attention back to the issue of climate change. 

Just halfway through America’s bushfire season, more than 3.3 million acres have burned in California - an all-time record in the state’s history.

Governor Gavin Newsom warned that the fires across California are just a preview of the future for the rest of the country.

And, as the 3 November election nears, President Donald Trump and his Democratic opponent Joe Biden sit firmly on opposite ends of the climate action spectrum.

Where does Donald Trump stand on climate change?

Mr Trump has a well-documented history of denying climate change and seeking to roll back environmental measures.

The president has refused to reference climate change as a cause of the west coast bushfires, instead claiming that bad forest management is behind the deadly outbreaks.

Asked directly about the role of climate change in the fires on 14 September, Mr Trump told a press conference: “It will start getting cooler. Just watch. I don’t think science knows, actually.”

Donald Trump has a well-documented history of denying climate change and seeking to roll back environmental measures.
Donald Trump has a well-documented history of denying climate change and seeking to roll back environmental measures.

Since 2016, the Trump administration has weakened limits on greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks, and from the oil and gas industry.

It gave more public land to oil and gas drilling, minimised wildlife protections and relaxed pollution regulations on coal-fired power plants.

Here’s an overview of Mr Trump’s environmental policies ahead of the 2020 election:

• Withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement
On 1 June 2017, Mr Trump announced that the US would withdraw from the accord in three years - as soon as the treaty permitted.

On 4 November 2019, the administration gave a formal notice of its intention to withdraw. This takes 12 months to take effect.

This means that on 4 November 2020, the day after the election, the United States will be able to exit the agreement.

Until that date, the US may be required to maintain some of its commitments, such as reporting its emissions to the United Nations.

But if Mr Trump wins, it’s highly likely the country will officially withdraw from the Paris Agreement the following day.

• More regulatory rollbacks
Over the last four years, Mr Trump has attempted to roll back almost every one of the environmental rules put in place by Barack Obama.

Among the Obama-era environment policies completely dismantled by the Trump administration were the Clean Power Plan, which sought to set strict limits on carbon emissions from coal- and gas-fired power plants; a requirement for oil and gas companies to report their methane emissions; lifting a summertime ban on the use of E15; and efforts to integrate a “social cost of carbon”.

Several of these rollbacks are still in progress and will likely be completed if Mr Trump wins a second term.

These include relaxing requirements that companies monitor and repair methane leaks at their oil and gas facilities; removing restrictions that required new coal power plants to capture carbon dioxide emissions; and lifting a ban on drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

• Ban on offshore drilling off the coast of Florida
Mr Trump is set to endorse an extended ban on offshore oil development on Florida’s western coast.

The President initially proposed opening most of America’s coastal waters to offshore oil and gas drilling, but delayed the plan after it was ruled unlawful.

The extension of the ban is seen among political experts as an election tactic, with fears Republicans could lose votes if they push ahead with selling the drilling rights.

Where does Joe Biden stand on climate change?

Joe Biden has made climate change action a centre of his campaign, positioning himself on the opposite end of the spectrum to Mr Trump.

“This is another crisis he won’t take responsibility for. The West is literally on fire and he blames the people whose homes and communities are burning,” Mr Biden said of Mr Trump’s response to the bushfires earlier this month.

“Hurricanes don’t swerve to avoid red states or blue states, wildfires don’t skip towns that voted a certain way. The impacts of climate change don’t pick and choose. That’s because it’s not a partisan phenomenon. It’s science."

Joe Biden has made climate change action a centre of his campaign
Joe Biden has made climate change action a centre of his campaign

Here’s an overview of Mr Biden’s environmental policies going into the next election:

• $2 trillion renewable energy plan
In August, Mr Biden announced a $US2 trillion plan to roll out renewable energy infrastructure over the next four years.

The money will be put towards a range of measures including energy efficiency upgrades, constructing half a million electricity vehicle charging stations and providing populous American cities with zero-emissions public transport options.

“If I have the honour of being elected president, we’re not just going to tinker around the edges. We’re going to make historic investments that will seize the opportunity, meet this moment in history,” he said during the announcement.

• Emissions-free power sector by 2035
Mr Biden plans to remove fossil fuels to generate electricity by 2035, and bring the country to net zero emissions by 2050.

To reach this target, the campaign includes wind, solar and other energy forms like nuclear, hydropower and biomass.

• Rejoin the Paris agreement
Mr Biden has also vowed to rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement, and commit the US to the pact’s goal of preventing global average temperatures from rising more than two degrees.

“Climate change is a challenge that’s going to define our American future,” he said in a speech announcing his plan. “I know meeting the challenge will be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to jolt new life into our economy, strengthen our global leadership, protect our planet ... We’re not just going to tinker around the edges.”

In other words, if Mr Biden wins the 3 November election, the Paris Agreement withdrawal will not last. 

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