GOP platform on climate risks ceding issue to Democrats

By adopting its 2016 platform for 2020, Republicans risk alienating young GOP voters and leaving the party without any climate goals or solutions for four more years, according to critics on both sides of the aisle.

The GOP argues in its platform — unchanged from 2016, even down to the lengthy criticism of the Obama administration’s regulatory actions — that market forces and innovation will solve climate change.

“We firmly believe environmental problems are best solved by giving incentives for human ingenuity and the development of new technologies, not through top-down, command-and-control regulations that stifle economic growth and cost thousands of jobs,” the platform says.

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The platform devotes even more text to bashing the Trump administration’s predecessor.

"The same Administration now requires the Department of Defense, operating with slashed budgets during a time of expanding conflict, to use its scarce resources to generate 25 percent of its electricity from renewables by 2025," the 2020 platform reads. "Climate change is far from this nation’s most pressing national security issue. This is the triumph of extremism over common sense, and Congress must stop it."

But with no policy proposals for tackling climate change, critics on both sides of the aisle say that could leave the party rudderless on an issue of increasing importance among voters compared with four years ago.

The GOP has defended its platform as appropriately considering the environment and the economy.

Republican National Committee spokesperson Mandi Merrit argued that President TrumpDonald John TrumpNew Biden campaign ad jabs at Trump's reported 0 income tax payments Ocasio-Cortez: Trump contributed less in taxes 'than waitresses and undocumented immigrants' Third judge orders Postal Service to halt delivery cuts MORE has “balanced environmental protection with economic growth, prioritizing American innovation.”

Joe BidenJoe BidenNew Biden campaign ad jabs at Trump's reported 0 income tax payments Biden campaign sells 'I paid more income taxes than Trump' stickers Trump, Biden have one debate goal: Don't lose MORE’s energy agenda would send gas prices soaring, destroy over 10 million jobs, and lead to wealthier and more globally influential adversaries like Iran, Venezuela, and Russia,” Merrit said in an email.

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The Trump administration has made some investments in renewable energy and taken steps to implement carbon capture technology, but has also dismantled many environmental protections, such as loosening requirements for environmental reviews of construction projects and rolling back efforts to reduce emissions in various industries.

Some Republicans argue that the party must start offering comprehensive solutions to a problem that’s only worsened in the past four years unless they want Democrats to control the issue.

“If Republicans want to prevent a Green New Deal, having cogent strategies for combating climate change and using technology and markets to solve these problems is the best way to do so. If they don’t do so, they cede a part of the debate to Democrats,” said Republican strategist Doug Heye.

Since the last GOP convention, the Earth has registered its two hottest years on record, with 2020 projected to set a new high. This month, the U.S. saw its hottest temperature in 107 years, with California's Death Valley reaching 130 degrees. And the U.S. has been hit with other types of extreme weather in recent years, such as severe flooding and wildfires.

During that same period, some polling has shown shifts in attitudes toward climate change, while others mark more steadfast opinions. An April study from Yale University found that 66 percent of respondents said climate change is at least somewhat important, up from 62 percent five years earlier.

Meanwhile, a Gallup survey from 2019 found that 65 percent of respondents said they were either greatly or fairly concerned about climate change or global warming, up just 1 percentage point from 2016.

On its website, the Trump campaign’s energy and environment page focuses on the administration’s expanded oil and gas drilling, rescinded regulations and withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement. By contrast, the Biden campaign has laid out goals such as net-zero emissions by 2050, carbon-free electricity by 2035, and investing in electric vehicles and retrofitting buildings.

Asked by The Hill about Trump’s goals for fighting climate change, his campaign cited the president’s support for joining the global Trillion Trees initiative, which seeks to “grow, restore and conserve” that many trees worldwide, according to the World Economic Forum.

The campaign also pointed to the administration’s work on cleaning up hazardous waste sites and reauthorizing a program targeting marine debris.

Planting trees is also a component of a climate plan put forth by House Republicans earlier this year that includes incentivizing and researching carbon capture technology, which seeks to trap and store emissions from activities like fossil fuel production.

While planting trees can help in the fight against climate change, scientists widely agree that it’s not enough to solve the problem and that it needs to be accompanied by steps like reducing and putting a price on emissions.

The GOP’s reticence to talk about climate change in a proactive manner carries electoral risks, Heye said.

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“I think it becomes an increasing issue, especially as you start talking about younger voters who aren’t so young anymore and the number of younger voters who are coming online this year ... where climate is a very real issue to them,” the Republican strategist said.

“It doesn’t mean that they have to be where the Democrats are. The GOP is not going to be a Green New Deal party and I don’t think it should be,” he added. “But you can talk about acknowledging what these problems are and what your solutions are, and if we’re arguing with Democrats that our solutions are better than their solutions, that is a much better place to be than Democrats talking about how they want to solve a problem and us really not solving the problem.”

In the meantime, Trump’s opponents are seizing on the GOP’s inaction.

“We need different elected leaders. We have no time to spare,” said Pete Maysmith, senior vice president of campaigns for the League of Conservation Voters. “That’s the other thing that’s embarrassing about them not updating their climate platform in the last four years. Science has continued to evolve so we have an even clearer sense of the time urgency of getting this right.”