US Presidential candidates and the politics of climate change


sandersclintonIn Paris, delegates from 195 countries and heads of state and government of 150 countries are working towards a legal outcome that would reaffirm the world’s collective action on greenhouse gas emissions. There is a new hope among leaders that all the countries can come together to draft a global climate change agreement to reduce global green house gases. However, the political system in America stands divided on recognizing the urgency that initiatives on climate change requires. While nearly three-quarters of Americans now favour government action on climate change – GOP presidential candidates and big donors who support them have opposed government action on the issue. This Republican opposition and apathy towards climate change is not new. Climate deniers have always found a place in the Republican Party and despite few signs that GOP leaders are moving towards accepting the reality of climate change, majority remains opposed to undertaking any action on it. According to a new survey, increasingly a majority of Republicans- including 54 percent of self-described conservative Republicans believe that world’s climate is changing. However, the Republican presidential candidates hold varying degrees of scepticism on the issue.

In the backdrop of the Paris conference it is important to take a look at the statements made by the presidential hopefuls which yields clues to where they stand on the question of climate change. Taking a leaf from President Obama’s administration, the democratic presidential candidates often have repeated that climate change is a grave national security threat and both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have released their own proposals – blueprints to cut carbon emissions from power plants. Climate change initiatives gained tremendous attention during President Obama’s leadership. When he was elected, expectations were high for President Obama’s favourability on the issue of global climate change. Although, recently his rating on how he has handled this issue have slipped. Overall he still gets positive ratings according to a Pew survey. In 12 of the 20 countries where trends from 2010 are available, fewer people now approve of how he is dealing with climate change. In spite of the drop in the favourability of Obama administration’s initiatives on climate change – Democratic candidates have called for focused government intervention on climate change.

Hillary Clinton on several occasions has mentioned that the reality of climate change is unforgiving no matter what climate change deniers say. She set an ambitious goal to produce 33 percent of the nation’s electricity from renewable sources by 2027. This is an increase by 7 percent today — a higher goal than the 20 percent that President Obama has called for by 2030. Clinton’s strategists see climate change as a winning issue for 2016. They believe it is a cause she can advance to win over deep-pocketed donors and liberal activists in the nominating campaign and her initiatives on climate change can also be used as a weapon against Republicans in a general election. Clinton’s leading opponent for Democratic nomination, Bernie Sanders also mentioned that climate change is the biggest national security threat facing the United States. Sanders explained that terrorism is intrinsically linked with climate change and states, “If we are going to see an increase in drought, flood and extreme weather disturbances as a result of climate change, what that means is that people all over the world are going to be fighting over limited natural resources,” Sanders said. “If there is not enough water, if there is not enough land to grow your crops, then you’re going to see migrations of people fighting over land that will sustain them, and that will lead to international conflicts.”

On the other hand, the GOP candidates have a wall of denial when it comes to climate change issues. In spite of new reports that suggests that GOP candidates are cognizant of the fact that climate is changing, several members of the Republican Party have routinely indulged in wild conspiracy theories, alleging that all the evidence for climate change is the product of a giant hoax perpetrated by thousands of scientists around the world. GOP presidential candidates’ apathy towards taking action on climate change is of considerable concern. Although Carly Fiorina accepted the scientific evidence for climate change she appeared to disagree with “the scientists” whose conclusion calls for “a three-decade global effort costing trillions of dollars.” Instead, she said that “the only answer is innovation.” She said that the U.S. should be the “global energy powerhouse of the 21st century” and let energy industries, including fossil fuels such as coal, take the lead on cutting their carbon emissions. Like Fiorina, Ohio Gov. John Kasich said that he believes in climate change but opposes a fix for climate action that hurts the economy. Additionally, the U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texasargued that there is no scientific consensus on climate change. Sen. Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, frames the issue of climate change in purely political terms. Suggesting that he is not sceptical of climate change, instead just doubtful of the Obama administration’s proposed policy solutions; Rubio stated that under his leadership a GOP administration would not destroy America’s economy the way the left-wing government wants.

Treading a somewhat similar line, Christi stated that America doesn’t need this massive government intervention to deal with the problem. The front-runner Republican candidate Donald Trump has openly stated that he does not believe in climate change. Trump has also tweeted that he thinks global warming is a “very expensive hoax,” and that it’s a conspiracy designed to make U.S. manufacturing less competitive with China. Adding to the climate change denier’s bandwagon former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has expressed scepticism about climate science and said that he and his fellow sceptics are the targets of their opponents’ “intellectual arrogance.”

Gradually the number of climate deniers is decreasing and more republican supports too are realising the threats posed by climate change. Jon Krosnick, a researcher at Stanford, has been studying public opinion on climate change since the 1990s. He told CNBC that his surveys have consistently shown that Americans are overwhelmingly accepting of climate change science, and are even willing to accept the costs of some regulation, if those regulations stand to mitigate the effects of warming. However the lack of consensus among the GOP candidates and inability to identify the initiatives that needs to be undertaken to deal with climate change is alarming to say the least.

(The writer is a Junior Fellow with the Strategic Studies Initiative, Observer Research Foundation, Delhi)

Courtesy: ORF- US presidential candidates and the politics of climate change

Author Profile

India Writes Network
India Writes Network
India Writes Network ( is an emerging think tank and a media-publishing company focused on international affairs & the India Story. Centre for Global India Insights is the research arm of India Writes Network. To subscribe to India and the World, write to A venture of TGII Media Private Limited, a leading media, publishing and consultancy company, IWN has carved a niche for balanced and exhaustive reporting and analysis of international affairs. Eminent personalities, politicians, diplomats, authors, strategy gurus and news-makers have contributed to India Writes Network, as also “India and the World,” a magazine focused on global affairs.