Climate notes on the Democratic platform

The DNC released a draft of its 2020 policy platform yesterday. Here are my notes.

Photo by Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images

The Democratic Party’s formal governing body, the Democratic National Committee, released a draft of its 2020 policy platform on Wednesday. The document is intended to represent Democrats’ official policy priorities for the next four years.

Clocking in at a whopping 80 pages, the draft document shows that “progressives are continuing to make step-by-step progress in pushing Biden and the party left,” Politico reported yesterday. However, Politico added, the document also “shows the limited sway of the left, with the paper largely reflecting Biden's centrist vision for the country.”

This interpretation rings true in the draft platform’s climate section. On the one hand, it’s more extensive than it’s ever been. “Whereas DNC’s 2012 platform included just a half a page on climate policy and the 2016 platform grew a bit to three pages, the 2020 draft devotes four pages to climate policy proposals, including some notable bright spots,” Earther’s Dharna Noor reports. Those “bright spots” include an incorporation of Joe Biden’s new climate policy, which pledges to fully decarbonize the power sector by 2035 and direct 40 percent of the economic benefits from clean energy investments toward disadvantaged communities.

At the same time, some climate language contained in the Democrats’ 2020 draft platform actually appears less aggressive than the climate language contained in the 2016 platform—at least as it pertains to the most important subject in climate policy: fossil fuels. Unlike the 2016 platform, the 2020 draft does not pledge to stop massive government subsidies and tax breaks to fossil fuel companies. Nor does it pledge to start charging them for their pollution via a carbon tax or price on carbon.

Additionally, though the draft platform states plainly that “As Democrats, we believe the scientists: the window for unprecedented and necessary action is closing, and closing fast,” it doesn’t mention specifically what it believes that window is. That’s important, as there are multiple scientific “windows” for action, depending on how much climate damage politicians are trying to prevent. Without a specific goal—1.5 degrees Celsius? 2 degrees Celsius? 4 degrees Celsius?—it’s unclear what type of future Democrats are trying to secure.

Importantly, this is not the final version of the Democratic platform. The DNC’s entire platform committee is set to consider the draft on Monday. People will offer amendments, and they’ll get voted on. It’s possible some of this could change.

In the meantime, here are a few notes I made about the draft. Who knows: maybe someone important at the DNC will read them and decide they are worth talking about on Monday! (What up, Tom. I see you).

Related: Why the Democratic platform is important for climate

A smattering of climate-related observations about the DNC’s draft 2020 platform

—The preamble, meant to convey the Democratic Party’s priorities, doesn’t mention climate change until the 15th paragraph. There are only 18 paragraphs in the draft preamble, and the climate crisis isn’t mentioned until almost the very end. To me, this indicates that party leaders still consider the climate crisis to be a far-off threat, rather than the immediate public health emergency that doctors, nurses, and scientists say it is.

—The paragraph summarizing the “challenges before us” also does not mention the climate crisis. The third paragraph of the preamble says that “Americans are facing “the worst public health crisis in a century, the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, the worst period of global upheaval in a generation, the intolerable racial injustice that still stains the fabric of our nation.” Pandemic, money, war, racism. Do Democrats realize climate change is making all those things worse?

The draft platform doesn’t contain the phrase “1.5 Degrees.” The document does cite the Paris Agreement, which aims to keep the world from warming more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. But the actual document doesn’t specify that this is the goal, which is important, because 1.5 degrees of warming is widely considered the limit to preserve a safe climate.

The draft platform only mentions the word “fossil fuels” once, and only to say they should clean up physical pollution. Specifically, the platform draft says Democrats “will hold fossil fuel companies accountable for cleaning up abandoned mine lands, oil and gas wells, and industrial sites, so these facilities no longer pollute local environments and can be safely repurposed to support new economic activity, including in the heart of coal country.” 

The draft platform does not say Democrats will hold fossil fuel companies accountable for climate change. Nearly every Democratic presidential candidate include Biden said they would seek some sort of accountability from fossil fuel companies for their outsized role in causing the climate crisis—whether it be financial accountability, criminal accountability, or both. Still, the platform doesn’t mention accountability measures for fossil fuel companies.

The 2016 platform did mention accountability. In fact, it mentioned “fossil fuels” four times, and acknowledged the need to ramp down production. The Democrats’ 2016 platform pledged to:

  • “Eliminate special tax breaks and subsidies for fossil fuel companies as well as defending and extending tax incentives for energy efficiency and clean energy.”

  • “Request the Department of Justice … investigate allegations of corporate fraud on the part of fossil fuel companies accused of misleading shareholders and the public on the scientific reality of climate change.”

  • “Reform fossil fuel leasing on public lands. We will phase down extraction of fossil fuels from our public lands, starting with the most polluting sources, while making our public lands and waters engines of the clean energy economy and creating jobs across the country.”

The 2016 platform included a carbon price. The 2020 platform doesn’t. Specifically, the 2016 platform said “Democrats believe that carbon dioxide, methane, and other greenhouse gases should be priced to reflect their negative externalities, and to accelerate the transition to a clean energy economy and help meet our climate goals.” The 2020 platform doesn’t say that, and that will likely make some progressives who oppose carbon pricing happy to see.

—The 2020 platform is “inclusive” of nuclear power. Those same climate progressives who oppose carbon pricing generally aren’t supportive of nuclear, though, so they won’t be happy to see this part of the 2020 platform draft, which says that “our technology-neutral approach is inclusive of all zero-carbon technologies, including hydroelectric power, geothermal, existing and advanced nuclear, and carbon capture and storage.”

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Why doesn’t the Democratic platform have aggressive language against fossil fuel companies?

It’s hard to say, but I suspect it has something to do with the political power of the fossil fuel industry. See this Twitter thread I did last week:

The question is: Are Democratic Party leaders actually beholden to the fossil fuel industry’s power? Are they really unwilling to reduce fossil fuel production to solve the climate crisis?

Or are Democrats just trying to stave off the industry’s political wrath before the election?

Petition seeks climate-related amendments to the platform

R.L. Miller, the new climate-focused DNC member who told DNC Chairman Tom Perez to “fuck off” in an interview with HEATED back in May, also has several observations and concerns about the Democrats’ 2020 draft platform from a climate perspective.

Her organization, Climate Hawks Vote, is circulating a petition to “strengthen the DNC platform for our planet.” You can read about her concerns there. If you agree, you could sign the petition. If you don’t, you could not.

Either way, the DNC platform committee will consider the draft on Monday—and I’ll consider keeping you updated about it.

OK, that’s all for today—thanks for reading HEATED!

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