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Where the 2020 Democrats stand on climate change

From no drilling to carbon pricing and going bigger than Paris, here’s what Warren, Buttigieg, Harris and others are proposing ahead of first-ever ‘climate crisis’ forum

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By Rachel Koning Beals


Getty Images
Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren speaks to supporters during a campaign stop in New Hampshire, overlooking the White Mountains.

Should the U.S. stop selling fossil fuels on the global market just as it nears toppling Saudi Arabia as the world’s leading oil exporter? A handful of 2020 Democratic presidential hopefuls say yes.

The roughly 20-strong field looking to beat President Donald Trump next year mostly aligns in its plans to rejoin a Paris Climate Agreement that includes U.S. allies , and most candidates want to end new fossil-fuel leasing on public lands. Widening the lens, however, their environmental proposals reveal key differences, and not just when it comes to U.S. oil, where to extract it and how to sell it.

Ten candidates, many of whom have issued or updated their climate-change proposals in recent weeks and days, will participate in one-on-one interviews on CNN Wednesday evening across seven hours of programming . It’s the first time in a presidential campaign that the question of what to do about the “climate crisis,” as CNN calls it, has earned its own single-issue forum on prime-time television. A CNN poll conducted in April showed that 96% of voters who identify as Democrats favored taking aggressive action to slow the effects of climate change.

“One area where candidates overwhelmingly agree is ending new leases for fossil-fuel development on federal lands. Investors should take note because this is something that a president can do unilaterally, without congressional approval,” says James Lucier, who leads the energy, environmental and tax practices at Capital Alpha.

Read: UN chief warns of ‘dramatic climate emergency’ as G-7 pledges $20 million for Amazon fire

Federal lands offshore and onshore currently produce 13% of U.S. natural gas and 24% of U.S. oil /zigman2/quotes/211629951/delayed CL.1 +1.71%  . U.S. crude oil exports will nearly double to 9 million barrels a day by 2024, the International Energy Agency forecasts. That’s enough to surpass Russian shipments and threatens to overtake Saudi exports. But the U.S. should be investing in alternative energy sources, not pouring oil onto the global market, say early poll leaders Sen. Bernie Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with Sen. Cory Booker and select others.


Capital Alpha
Note: This graphic was created before candidates John Hickenlooper and Jay Inslee dropped out of the presidential race and before Andrew Yang detailed his proposals.

About half of the field is backing a “Green New Deal” that has already been factoring into the election conversation. Some are adding their own features to the pact rolled out by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and other members of Congress earlier this year. Sanders, Harris, Warren, Booker and Sen. Amy Klobuchar all signed off on the Green New Deal legislation.

Future Returns : What would the Green New Deal mean to investors?

Following the lead of major states such as California and New York, the candidates with the more advanced plans are moving to endorse features of the Green New Deal, such as a 100%-clean-electricity goal (10 candidates of the 19 tracked by Lucier and Capital Alpha) and a net-zero emissions target by 2050 (nine candidates). Many other candidates have been vocal supporters of the deal, which is at least as much a job-creation bill as climate-protection bill.

Surprisingly, few candidates (only four) lead with an explicit carbon price — a cost applied to carbon pollution to encourage polluters to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases they emit into the atmosphere. Most candidates are choosing emissions targets instead as a means of stopping ozone depletion. Those that favor a carbon price do generally have less developed policies than those who follow a Green New Deal approach, analysts say. Still, a majority of candidates are at least open to a carbon price, notes Lucier. Entrepreneur Andrew Yang, out with his $5 trillion proposal in late August, plays up the use of nuclear energy more than his competition.

More candidates have put a price tag on their plans in recent weeks but how exactly they’ll fund ambitious environmental fixes will have to be hammered out as the group narrows.

Related: Andrew Yang urges Americans to move to higher ground because response to climate change is ‘too late’

The Democratic National Committee, by a vote of 222-137, in August ruled against allowing a climate-only debate that former climate-focused 2020 candidate Gov. Jay Inslee and activists had pushed for. Inslee has since announced his withdrawal from the presidential race to run again for Washington governor.

Opinion: How to make sure your ESG fund does what you think it does

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