Why 2020 candidates will be talking a lot more about climate change

Source: By Dino Grandoni, Washington Post • Posted: Friday, December 14, 2018

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee speaks in support of Georgia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams in Savannah last month. (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

The next presidential election is nearly two years away. But it’s already clear that climate change will be a higher-profile issue in the 2020 race than it was in the previous presidential contest.

That’s not exactly a high bar to hurdle. As climate activists like to point out, global warming was barely mentioned oncein the three debates between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

But a confluence of factors, including new veins of science and activism over the past year, make it more likely Democratic candidates for president will pay heightened attention to the issue.

 Here are a few reasons why.

— U.S. withdrawal from the Paris accord will loom over Election Day: President Trump promised last year to withdraw that United States from the landmark international accord for nations to voluntarily rein in greenhouse gas emissions. But that agreement is structured so that the earliest Trump could withdraw the nation from the accord is Nov. 4, 2020.

That happens to be one day after the 2020 election.

If Trump hews to his commitment to withdraw from the Paris accord, that deadline will hang over the presidential race and become fodder for the eventual Democratic nominee, who will likely counter Trump by promising to keep the United States inside the agreement.

Many potential presidential contenders are already doing just that. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) calledTrump’s decision to leave the Paris accord a “retreat.” Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) calledit “a vicious blow to American leadership.” Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) saidit was “catastrophic for our future.”

Susan Biniaz, a former State Department climate negotiator and currently a lecturer at Yale Law School, toldThe Post’s Chris Mooney that any one of those potential Democratic candidates could bring the United States back into the agreement after taking office.

…on this timeline, the United States would at least briefly leave the agreement even in the event of a Democratic victory. That’s because the new president is not inaugurated until January 2021.

But after that, reversal could be swift, at least under the Obama administration’s interpretation that the agreement is not one that needs to be submitted to the Senate for ratification.

It would then take 30 days after submission of notice for the United States to rejoin the agreement formally, Biniaz explained. This, again, is based on the text of the Paris climate agreement.

— The scientific consensus on climate change is getting more dire: The alarm being raised by climate researchers about the urgency of keeping temperatures under control reached ever higher levels in the past three months alone.

Last month, federal scientists in 13 agencies described“intensifying” conditions across the country due to a changing climate. The effects include the increased severity of wildfires in the western United States and of hurricanes in the Atlantic — disasters that last year took the lives or livelihoods of thousands of Americans and captured the attention of millions more.

Scientists also agree that time is short for addressing the issue. In October, a U.N. panel of climate scientists saidthe world’s nations have just a dozen years to undergo a “rapid and far-reaching” transformation to hold warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels.

— And climate activists are getting more vocal: That narrow window for action has been turned into a slogan — “12 years” — emblazoned on the T-shirts of climate demonstrators who recently occupied the offices of Democratic lawmakers demanding more aggressive action on climate change.

Potential 2020 candidates, in turn, are meeting with activists in an effort to tailor their platforms on the issue, The Post’s Michael Scherer reports.

Democrats preparing to run for president have been rushing to shift their plans for combating climate change, highlighting an issue once considered a political liability, especially in Midwestern swing states won by President Trump.

Aides to a half-dozen senators considering a 2020 campaign met with supporters of the Green New Deal, an effort pushed by Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) that could turn into a litmus test for Democratic candidates, organizers said. Other potential candidates are weighing activist demands to swear off donations from the political action committees or executives of companies involved in fossil fuel production.

At least three potential candidates, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D), Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) have made clear that they intend to make climate change a central issue of their campaign if they do run.

The question remains: How will voters respond? In past elections, voters have prioritized pocketbook issues like economic growth and health-care costs over environmental ones.

Which is why some candidates are beginning to argue that mounting a national response to climate change is a job-creating opportunity.

Inslee told The Post climate change “has to become a primary force of our economic growth policy.” Tom Steyer, a billionaire investor and environmental activist who is also considering a presidential run, added: “You can’t talk about climate. You have got to talk about jobs and health. This has to be simply related to human beings.