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Published on September 10th, 2019 | by Michael Barnard

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Biden’s Climate Plan Is Designed To Appeal To Independents Who Don’t Think Climate Change Is Serious

September 10th, 2019 by  


As part of CleanTechnica‘s ongoing #Election2020 coverage, we are assessing the top candidates’ climate plans, and the interesting ones. So far, we’ve looked at Andrew Yang’s and Elizabeth Warren’s. Now it’s time for Joe Biden.

Joe Biden addressing 2015 Climate Leaders Summit

Image courtesy Joe Biden’s campaign

Biden’s plan is strong on transportation, okay on land use, & weak on everything else

It’s clear that Biden’s transportation advisors know what they are talking about: electrification of the roads, biofuels for sea and sky, high-speed rail where it makes sense. His land use advisors are okay but light on actionable pathways to change. He has a couple of things in there which will be easy to message to farmers.

His industry advisors? Not so much. Yes, wonky climate risk in public company disclosures and some state-level manufacturing subsidies. His energy advisors need to be replaced with people who know what they are talking about. He’s basically ignoring the military contribution to global warming, instead offering to give them more money. He’s also not committing to a price on carbon in his current plan, a core approach that would appeal to fiscally conservative voters.

His plan is more inoffensive than robust, and it’s underfunded for the magnitude of the problem. Worse, it’s not obvious at all what he’s committing that adds up to US$1.7 trillion. Most of that is a free floating pledge of money with only US$400 billion clearly accounted for.

But he’s much strong on foreign policy than Warren or Yang, and half the President’s job (if not his votes) is foreign policy. And he blames China for a lot of things, which seems to be a good vote-getter in the US, regardless of how accurate it is.

Is this plan better than anything the Republicans will offer? Undoubtedly. Is it better than any of the other plans? No. Will it attract Independent voters to a Biden ticket? Maybe, but it’s not nearly as focused on them as Yang’s strategy, where the segmentation analysis is crystal clear, even if one of the major planks is broken balsa wood.


Context

As a reminder, global warming has several large areas of causation. Electrical generation, transportation, land use and industry all have greenhouse gas emissions. The US military, which is seven times larger than the next seven largest military forces in the world combined, is estimated to be one of the single largest greenhouse gas sources in the world and has not been required to quantify its emissions, but has been pointing out the significant global security risks of climate change for over a decade. While dealing with the causes is critical, dealing with adaptation to the impacts is now important as well due to our delays in addressing this problem which has been clear since the 1970s. Finally, while accelerating drawdown of carbon from the atmosphere is of lower priority than stopping emitting greenhouse gases, any plan should address aspects of drawdown as well. These aspects of any plan need to be assessed to see if they are present and the approaches are reasonable.

Table stakes

There are three things which virtually every Democratic candidate agrees with. The first is that they all accept the science of human-caused global warming and resulting climate impacts, and the need to act on this serious global issue. The second is a return to the Paris Accord, which Obama entered the US into and Trump walked away from. The third is support for the Green New Deal, at least in principle, but implementation varies quite a bit. And the Paris Accord portion means that US military emissions would finally be reported, so that they could be tracked and reductions measured.


Electrical generation

Biden’s plan related to electrical generation is … mixed.

The answer to low carbon generation is clear after the past decade: wind and solar. They are cheap, fast to build and reliable. There’s some good news in Biden’s plan on that front.

“…establishing targeted programs to enhance reforestation and develop renewables on federal lands and waters with the goal of doubling offshore wind by 2030.”

(Note: all quoted text is from Biden’s campaign documents unless otherwise stated.)

Like Warren, he’s focused on federal lands and waters for renewables, which is good. It’s under federal control. The offshore wind generation thing is nonsensical, as there is exactly one small 30 MW wind farm in operation offshore. so that’s obviously a misstatement. But unlike Warren, he doesn’t say clearly what he would do to make this real.

“Using the Federal government procurement system – which spends $500 billion every year – to drive towards 100% clean energy and zero-emissions vehicles.”

This is an excellent idea, but very poorly quantified. How much of that annual expenditure would go toward clean energy? If the federal government mandated that all new and renegotiated electricity contracts had to be 100% low-carbon electricity starting in 2021, that would be a target. As it is, weak sauce. It’s a lever, but it’s completely unclear how far Biden would pull it. By comparison, Warren’s plan is costed at US$1.5 trillion of federal expenditures across clean technologies with bulk purchases that states and cities can get in on.

“A more integrated energy grid from Mexico through Central America and Colombia supplied by increasingly clean energy.”

That’s interesting, as it’s kind of a Chinese Belt and Road promise. And that’s a theme of his plan, which is a good thing. His climate plan has a lot of foreign policy elements, and the President has to consider both foreign policy and domestic policy. Assisting the hemisphere to be lower-carbon is a solid policy. And as Canada and the US already have an integrated grid, extending that through Central America and into South America has benefits. A shared electrical grid that allows US clean energy to flow south and Central American clean energy to flow north as needed makes a lot of sense. Continent-scale grids are a key part of the energy transformation that’s required, as they make the challenges with intermittency from renewables diminish to a very manageable level.

“In 2017, China invested $3 in renewable energy for every $1 in America, giving China an edge on the technologies of tomorrow that will generate well-paying jobs. By 2030, the Biden Administration will put the United States back in the driver’s seat, making America the world’s leader in clean energy research, investment, commercialization, manufacturing, and exports.”

That’s a good statement and a nice-sounding target. Once again, China. And…

“Stop China from subsidizing coal exports and outsourcing carbon pollution. China is far and away the largest emitter of carbon in the world, and through its massive Belt and Road Initiative, Beijing is also annually financing billions of dollars of dirty fossil fuel energy projects across Asia and beyond. Biden will rally a united front of nations to hold China accountable to high environmental standards in its Belt and Road Initiative infrastructure projects, so that China can’t outsource pollution to other countries.”

Yes, Biden spends a lot of his time in his climate plan pointing at China, both for good and bad. He’s a lot noisier on the bad than the good, but that will play well with voters. No one in the US really wants to know how badly China is outclassing the US on actual climate action, from HVDC to renewables to EVs to reforestation.

“By engaging key leaders, including in China, Biden will secure a global commitment to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies by the end of his first term. He will lead by example, with the United States cutting fossil fuel subsidies at home in his first year and redirecting these resources to the historic investment in clean energy infrastructure (outlined in Part I of this plan).”

This is good too, but Biden already committed the US to cutting fossil fuel subsidies in 2009 and then did nothing to deliver on that. Congressional research puts the minimum number of US subsidies for fossil fuels at US$4.6 billion annually. An NRDC G7 annual analysis puts the number at US$27.4 billion annually. The NRDC report makes it clear that while the G7 all committed to this a decade ago, the US has done the least to make it real. And Biden was VP from 2009 to 2016. Why will people believe he’ll do it differently this time?

And did you spot China in there again? Oddly, the second biggest economy in the world isn’t part of the G7, but is part of the G20. And guess what? It’s already committed to eliminating fossil fuel subsidies by 2030, and undertook and published its own deep assessment of the subsidies it provides. It’s doing more than the US already on this front, as a 2019 assessment of G20 action points out:

“The United States and China were the most committed to this process but only China implemented some of the recommendations. The rest of the countries were criticised for not including all types of subsidies. As volunteers, they aren’t bound to anything,” said Gerasimchuk.

Then there’s the ARPA-C initiative. That’s Advanced Research Projects Agency for Climate. And of course, ARPA used to exist (twice) and was change to DARPA (twice) and is focused on defense. So this will somewhat confusingly re-create ARPA with a climate focus, while DARPA will continue to operate as well.

“The Biden plan will double down on this approach to create the industries of the future by investing $400 billion over ten years.”

Presumably this is the ARPA-C funding line item more than anything else. And several of the pieces in this make sense, but some don’t based on what we know in 2019. I’ll cover the various pieces of ARPA-C in the sections of the analysis that they apply in.

“…grid-scale storage at one-tenth the cost of lithium-ion batteries”

That’s good, one assumes. But it’s somewhat irrelevant. For longer term grid storage, pumped hydro and turning existing hydro plants into passive storage are the obvious choices. The Australian assessment of global pumped hydro potential shows enormous resources in the western mountains and in Appalachia, where there are a lot of coal miners looking for work. By 2050, there will be about 20 TWh of batteries in electric cars alone that will be available for demand management and vehicle-to-grid schemes. Short term storage for grid balancing is already economically viable with Tesla battery systems, and they are coming down in price. And storage just isn’t as big an issue with continent-scale grids. This isn’t a fully solved problem, but it doesn’t take a moonshot. Making it the first line item in ARPA-C’s proposed mandate overstates the problem and ignores the existing solutions.

And then the really bad stuff starts.

“…small modular nuclear reactors at half the construction cost of today’s reactors”

There is zero need for more nuclear power. Wind and solar are going to be US$20 per MWh unsubsidized by 2030. Nuclear power is US$100 to $150 per MWh today, so cutting that in half will make it $50 to $75 per MWh, still multiple times the cost of wind and solar. And there’s certainly no need for nuclear for grid reliability. Globally, the most reliable grids are the ones with most renewable energy, not the ones with nuclear energy. Germany and Denmark have minutes of grid downtime per customer per year compared to the hours experienced in the US and France. Texas’ grid reliability has shot up as it’s gone from 0% to 20% renewable electricity in the past decade.

It’s 2019. The data is in. We know what works. It’s wind and solar. Nuclear need not apply.

“…using renewables to produce carbon-free hydrogen at the same cost as that from shale gas”

Similarly, hydrogen is not a need in particular. It’s barely used today, it’s only about 45% efficient as an energy storage mechanism and it’s certainly not going to be a major player in transportation. The hydrogen economy was arguably a viable alternative if you squinted at it in 1999, but it’s 2019. We know better now. Why should more federal money be thrown at it?

And then there’s this gift to the fossil fuel industry.

“…capturing carbon dioxide from power plant exhausts followed by sequestering it deep underground or using it make alternative products”

There is no merit in spending more money on failed bandaids for coal plants. By far the cheapest way to deal with their emissions is by replacing them with wind and solar utility scale generation at an accelerated rate. The global history of CCS is wasted money and enhanced oil recovery leading to 2–3 times the emissions of CO2 as were sequestered.

No federal money should be spent on CCS for coal and gas plants. It’s purely greenwashing for the fossil fuel industry. Price carbon, make sure it applies to fossil fuel generation and let the market eliminate them. Don’t spend more money on trying to make them greener. Fossil fuels are already sequestered. Just stop digging them up.

And it gets worse.

“…he will double down on federal investments and enhance tax incentives for CCUS”

Outside of biological pathways, this is a waste of money and will simply replace fossil fuel subsidies with different ineffectually spent money.

How will he do much of this? Day one executive orders. He has a list of them. Let’s assess them.

“Requiring aggressive methane pollution limits for new and existing oil and gas operations”

That’s pretty good. Methane is potent, so preventing its leakage until we stop using fossil fuels makes a lot of sense.

“…banning new oil and gas permitting on public lands and waters, modifying royalties to account for climate costs”

That’s good as well, and aligned with Warren’s approaches. Modifying the royalties is a nice touch.

What’s missing or me is who is going to vote for Biden based on these initiatives. It’s clear that Warren is targeting jobs for middle Americans and Yang is clearly focused on selling himself to Independents even more than to Democratic voters. But Biden’s plan doesn’t seem crafted to appeal to Independents as much as committed Democratic voters. That’s not bad in some ways, as he needs to secure the nomination first, but the electability assessment starts in the primaries.

Yes, Biden’s energy policies are better than the Obama-era All of the Above, in that they don’t include natural gas. But he obviously has a bunch of advisors who are stuck in the early 2000s, when it was possible to argue with a straight face that hydrogen, nuclear and mechanical carbon capture and sequestration approaches were potentially viable approaches. But it’s 2019. We know better now. Biden needs some new advisors.


Industry

Biden’s plan for industry is … okay, as far as it goes. There are two big pieces, a low-carbon manufacturing sector strategy and carbon risk disclosures, but all the money is in the ARPA-C initiative.

“Enacting a national strategy to develop a low-carbon manufacturing sector in every state, accelerating cutting-edge technologies and ensuring businesses and workers have access to new technologies and skills, with a major focus on helping small and large manufacturers upgrade their capabilities to have both competitive and low-carbon futures.”

This piece talks about funding, tax credits and subsidies for modernization to lower carbon tooling and processes, but there are zero dollar figures attached to this. And it’s not in the day one executive orders or year one legislative agenda. So no money and no plan. It’s a nice idea with nothing behind it yet.

“Requiring public companies to disclose climate risks and the greenhouse gas emissions in their operations and supply chains.”

This is a day one executive order. Warren fleshes out this approach in its own wonky document, so there’s meat to draw on for this piece, and there’s a plan for it. Good marks on this, and probably good marks for not trying to explain it too much to the American public. As I stated in my assessment of Warren’s approach, she’s pretty wonky and that’s a vote-getting disadvantage.

And then we get back to ARPA-C.

“…refrigeration and air conditioning using refrigerants with no global warming potential”

It’s really unclear why this is an area of research investment. We already have low-greenhouse gas potential replacements for HFCs, what’s needed is a program to deploy them. And Biden and his team know that too. One of the foreign policy actions is this one:

“Embrace the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol, adding momentum to curbing hydrofluorocarbons, an especially potent greenhouse gas, which could deliver a 0.5 degree Celsius reduction in global warming by mid-century.”

Yeah, there’s already a treaty related to ozone depletion avoidance which deals with this, the replacements are known and it’s just a matter of doing it. Project Drawdown ranks this is the best cost-benefit effort on its list of 100 methods, with the lowest cost for the highest impact.

So why isn’t Biden executing on that instead of throwing money at research? After all, buildings — which is what most of the refrigerants are used in — are mentioned eight times in the plan. But not one of those plans includes a targeted program at replacing the refrigerants, but at energy efficiency (good) and climate change impact resiliency (necessary). That’s a head scratcher. There’s a clear line between money for buildings and refrigerants that the Biden plan doesn’t draw.

The other ARPA-C item of note is this one:

“…decarbonizing industrial heat needed to make steel, concrete, and chemicals and reimagining carbon-neutral construction materials”

That’s a pretty good one, up to a point. Cement is responsible for 8% of all greenhouse gas emissions globally and 40% of that is energy. Construction materials for new and refurbished buildings have very large carbon footprints. Steel, on the other hand, is mostly made in electric minimills which already use electricity. And energy consumption for steel is under 2% of the US total already. It’s unclear what research is needed for steel as the US has already modernized that industrial process and now just needs to ensure that all the electricity used is low carbon.

But a lot of the carbon footprint from these materials outside of cement is from extraction and distribution using diesel-powered vehicles. This is a place where it seems likely that the transportation initiatives — and unlike Warren, Biden actually says quite a bit about transportation — will make a bigger difference.

Remember, the ARPA-C initiative is the only one that appears to have a price tag so far. Biden talks about US$1.7 trillion, but only $400 billion has been accounted for to date. He also talks about the $500 billion federal procurement annual budget, but has no clarity on what percentage of that would be redirected in what timeframe.

This section has a bit more meat for voters who aren’t already going to vote for any Democratic candidate in 2020. And Biden also leans into the Green New Deal’s goals of well paying jobs for all. The low-carbon manufacturing in every state could be pumped up a lot in messaging to make it clear what voters will be receiving.

So yeah, Biden’s plan has a couple of good parts: a carbon risk disclosure executive order, a Kigali Amendment foreign policy push and cement. But there’s a lack of clarity and dollars around this point that needs fleshing out.


Transportation

So this too, is a mixed bag, but it has some good meat and it’s obviously a space Biden and his team expect to win votes on. Let’s start at the top.

“Reducing greenhouse gas emissions from transportation – the fastest growing source of U.S. climate pollution – by preserving and implementing the existing Clean Air Act, and developing rigorous new fuel economy standards aimed at ensuring 100% of new sales for light- and medium-duty vehicles will be electrified and annual improvements for heavy duty vehicles.”

Good stuff in there, teasing it apart. And it’s a day one executive order, meaning that Biden has a plan on how to make it move forward.

The Clean Air Act is one of the key pieces regulating transportation (and other) emissions in the USA, in 2009 under Obama and Biden the EPA extended it to cover greenhouse gases, and the Trump administration wants to gut it. Reversing whatever Trump does to it should be on every climate climate action plan in 2020, and probably will be.

Increasing fuel economy standards under the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) regulations are one of the key federal levers to tackle transportation emissions. They are the obvious place to drive toward low emissions for smaller vehicles. And larger vehicles are going to get some attention in there as well, under a different mechanism.

And the focus is on electric drive trains. No hydrogen nonsense (which makes the ARPA-C focus on making hydrogen even more questionable).

The biggest niggle with this is the use of the word ‘electrified’. That includes any hybrid drive train, and they are an intermediary step which is going to disappear from the market vehicles up to and including freight trucks in the coming decades. But most hybrids sold these days are plug-in hybrids, and most of them consume very little gas in reality. It’s not that big a concern.

But still, there’s more.

“As President, Biden will work with our nation’s governors and mayors to support the deployment of more than 500,000 new public charging outlets by the end of 2030. In addition, Biden will restore the full electric vehicle tax credit to incentivize the purchase of these vehicles.”

Those are very reasonable goals. He doesn’t get into levels of charging, which is fine as it would confuse non-EV types (per Ford’s recent polling, 40% of Americans think you have to put gas in electric vehicles, so there’s some work to do on education). There are about 70,000 charging outlets in the USA today, so seven times more in a decade is a strong goal. And helping people buy electric cars with tax credits makes tremendous sense. Presumably, this would include manufacturers such as Tesla, which has reached the 200,000 limit.

“Doubling down on the liquid fuels of the future, which make agriculture a key part of the solution to climate change. Advanced biofuels are now closer than ever as we begin to build the first plants for biofuels, creating jobs and new solutions to reduce emissions in planes, ocean-going vessels, and more.”

This is right on the money too, but also in direct contradiction to other statements on carbon capture, use and storage. I’ve published extensively on synthetic fuels and communicated with many of top researchers in the space, and it’s clear that synthetic fuels from captured carbon and hydrogen split from water will not be cost competitive, lower carbon, or cheaper than biologically sourced fuels. It’s also explicitly focused on the hard-to-electrify segments, not keeping internal combustion engines in cars and trucks going. It’s a day one executive order too, so this is another thing with a clear path to delivery.

Under the ARPA-C program, there’s this line item:

“Target airline emissions: Aviation accounts for nearly 2% of global greenhouse gas emissions, and that portion is expected to increase. Unfortunately today, few low-carbon technologies or fuels have been developed to tackle this challenge.”

And that’s the problem. This isn’t an R&D problem. There have been aircraft certified biofuels available since 2011. The problem is that they aren’t being used. What’s missing in Biden’s policy are clear statements about putting teeth in mandated use of these fuels or costing fossil fuels for aviation for their carbon and pollution emissions so that the economics change. So not top marks for this part of the plan, at best partial ones. That’s a year one legislative agenda, so there is a path forward. And it’s part of the US$400 billion that’s funded, so that’s good too. But it’s the wrong focus.

But there’s more. As promised, it’s a meaty section.

“Empowering local communities to develop transportation solutions. Communities across the country are experiencing a growing need for alternative and cleaner transportation options, including transit, dedicated bicycle and pedestrian thoroughfares, and first- and last-mile connections.”

The federal government already flows money downward for transportation initiatives, but Biden promises to shift the funding model so that it’s applicable to much lower carbon options, rather than being pretty heavily weighted to roads and bridges.

Unlike Yang and Warren, Joe is leaning into the Green New Deal’s high-speed rail thoughts.

“Today, the U.S. is lagging behind Europe and China in rail safety and speed. Biden will develop a plan to ensure that America has the cleanest, safest, and fastest rail system in the world – for both passengers and freight.”

Okay, the first part of that is accurate. The US is lagging. In fact, it’s so far behind that it’s as if the company that makes Thomas the Train toys and videos is the one running rail in the US. Freight isn’t bad, by the way, it’s passenger trains that are ludicrous. The second half is … ummm… a bit of a hyperbolic fantasy. There is no path for rail passenger transportation in the US that gets to the speeds and coverage of Europe and China, but that’s okay too.

His high-speed rail aspirations are actually much less inflated than that sentence suggest. He’s focused on halving passenger train times in the most heavily traveled northeastern corridor. He wants to put federal weight behind the California high-speed rail plan, which covers the other high-density corridor where high-speed rail makes sense. Those parts are bang on.

Then he wants to build a high-speed rail connector or two across the US. That starts to run into silliness pretty quickly given the width of the US and the lack of people living in the middle of it compared to the coastal corridors and the costs per mile. That part is less likely to occur, but it’s good that it’s there to take out later.

And he has a sight-line to more specific projects like freight rail and truck bridges. Improvements like that can make a big difference to freight transit times, especially with electrified trucks and biofuel-powered diesel electric trains. We don’t need to have freight move faster if we can help it move more directly between various points and decarbonize it.

This is a reasonable section from a voting perspective. The Independent voters will see freight rail, clean air, jobs, and a lot of things in there. The biofuels heavy approach for the specific segments is going to appeal to the agricultural sector especially, and that’s good. Corn ethanol for cars is a dead end, but biosourced kerosene and diesel for shipping and air transportation will make up for that. There’s sellable meat there for farmers’ votes, and a little work on messaging will make that clear.

Top marks for the rail sections goals, in my opinion. But it’s not in the day one executive order section or the year one legislative agenda. It’s in the Clean Energy Revolution legislation goals, but it has no timeframe or dollars associated with it. So while the intent is write, it’s not crisply defined in terms of an action plan.

The transportation segment of the plan makes a lot of sense. Electrify everything that can be. Use biofuels for the rest. Get faster passenger trains running in high-density corridors. And the levers he would use are clear, and mostly have timeframes and levers fairly clearly defined. There are weaknesses, but they can be addressed.

If Warren is the person Biden is trying to beat, on transportation his plan is so much better than her non-plan that anyone who cares about this sector will support him. My opinion of him rose after this portion of the analysis, if not the energy sector portion.


Land Use

Biden’s plan here is good, but not particularly well fleshed out or voter friendly in the parts that deal with actual climate change.

“…banning new oil and gas permitting on public lands and waters, modifying royalties to account for climate costs”

As with Warren, no more oil and gas exploration on lands the government controls. And it’s a day one executive order, so the path to execution has been thought through and is being communicated.

“…establishing targeted programs to enhance reforestation and develop renewables on federal lands and waters with the goal of doubling offshore wind by 2030”

Reforestation is excellent. Planting trees is one of the clearest biological paths to reducing atmospheric CO2, although it has its challenges as well. We’ve managed to cut down about 3 trillion of the 6 trillion trees on the planet, and planting a trillion would have substantial benefits (with a lot of provisos and nuances). The US should be leading on this, and Warren and Yang are silent on it.

Renewables instead of oil and gas on federally controlled lands? Also excellent. As I’ve calculated and published elsewhere, wind turbines avoid eight times the CO2 emissions as trees will drawn down on an annual basis, so having both in the mix means that where renewables are viable, they can go in, and where trees are viable they can go in. In many cases, both wind and trees can go on the same land, for even larger benefits.

Also a day one executive order. Good marks so far.

“…decarbonizing the food and agriculture sector, and leveraging agriculture to remove carbon dioxide from the air and store it in the ground”

That sounds good. But it’s in the ARPA-C research section. That’s not where it belongs. We already have a solid understanding of what is required here and how to approach it. More research isn’t necessary, more deployment is necessary. And remember, the research section is the only funded section in the plan. If that were all that were going on in agriculture, it would be weak. But it isn’t.

“Biden will review regulatory roadblocks to new innovations and invest in climate-friendly farming such as conservation programs for cover crops and other practices aimed at restoring the soil and building soil carbon”

That’s better. This is deployment oriented. But it’s in a generic section without a timeline, levers, or dollars. It’s nice words, but needs to be made actionable. Warren’s plan, by comparison, is clear which program she would be investing through and has US$14 billion earmarked, and Yang’s has $285 billion set aside for this type of thing, although he has no clarity about what levers he would pull.

But at least it’s promising something to farmers. They’ll see money for them in this section, just as they will in the biofuels section, and farmers trend Independent and Republican. They are also hurting under Trump’s trade war with China.

So a mixed bag so far. But there’s still more in this section.

“Altering local regulations to eliminate sprawl and allow for denser, more affordable housing near public transit would cut commute times for many of the country’s workers while decreasing their carbon footprint.”

This is great, as an idea. Increasing urban densification is exactly what should be happening. But once again, this is an idea without clarity of how it would be acted upon or funding. And it’s sticking the federal nose deep into the states’ responsibility for cities. How this is done will be critical and needs thought. And it needs to not tick off the Independents who might vote Democratic, but who also want the federal government to keep away from the responsibilities of states.

There are several foreign policy elements as well, and that’s excellent to see. One of the clear weaknesses of Warren’s and Yang’s plans is the lack of attention to foreign policy on this file, beyond rejoining the Paris Accord. Some Independents will be foreign-policy wonks and appreciate this.

As part of the focus on the hemisphere’s efforts, referenced in the integrated grid from Mexico to Columbia, there are the following points:

“A framework to limit greenhouse gas emissions related to land use, forests, and agriculture”

“New common standards for the greening of manufacturing, mining, and tourism”

Those are reasonable and deal with helping America’s southern neighbors clean up their land use as the US cleans up its own. Canada is ignored, again, presumably because it’s expected that it will continue to be ahead of the US with its federal carbon price and the like.

This is vote getting stuff with many Latinos, however. They can see a path the US helping the countries that they are from, which means their families and friends. However, they vote for Democratic candidates more than not already, 69% of them in the 2019 midterms. That’s not going to help with enough Independents.


The Military

Finally, we get to the military. This is a place where there is clear differentiation between the candidates. Sanders, sensibly, wants to take money away from the military to help pay for his climate plan. Warren has legislation already drafted and goals for the military getting what is reasonable to be zero emissions given its mandate. Yang ignores them in his published documents. Buttigieg wants them to play a role with specific climate watch floor.

So what about Biden? Well, he’s going to pay attention to what the military says about climate impacts and security. And he’s going to give them money — an unspecified amount — to improve the resiliency of military bases around the world. He’s going to make climate change a core national security priority.

That’s a reasonable choice, but it doesn’t do a thing for military greenhouse gas emissions. It doesn’t do a thing for the inflated budget of the US military and leveraging it to reduce global warming. It’s adaptation and more money for the military.

That will get Independents who care about the military to vote for him over Sanders, for example, but won’t really do much about the thorny problem of military emissions. Getting into the Paris Accord again will make that very visible, and Biden doesn’t have a plan for what to do about that.

This is a platform that won’t lose him military voters. That’s about the best that can be said for it.


It’s clear that Biden’s transportation advisors know what they are talking about. His industry advisors? Not so much. His land use advisors are merely okay and light on actionable pathways to change. He has a couple of things in there which will be easy to message to farmers. He’s basically ignoring the military contribution to global warming, instead offering to give them more money. But he’s much strong on foreign policy than Warren or Yang, and half the President’s job (if not his votes) is foreign policy. His plan is more inoffensive than robust, and it’s underfunded for the magnitude of the problem. Worse, it’s not obvious at all what he’s committing that adds up to US$1.7 trillion. Most of that is a free floating pledge of money with only $400 billion clearly accounted for.

Note: a draft of this assessment was provided to the Biden campaign for comment. Should further information be forthcoming, the assessment will be updated.


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About the Author

is Chief Strategist with TFIE Strategy Inc. He works with startups, existing businesses and investors to identify opportunities for significant bottom line growth and cost takeout in our rapidly transforming world. He is editor of The Future is Electric, a Medium publication. He regularly publishes analyses of low-carbon technology and policy in sites including Newsweek, Slate, Forbes, Huffington Post, Quartz, CleanTechnica and RenewEconomy, and his work is regularly included in textbooks. Third-party articles on his analyses and interviews have been published in dozens of news sites globally and have reached #1 on Reddit Science. Much of his work originates on Quora.com, where Mike has been a Top Writer annually since 2012. He's available for consulting engagements, speaking engagements and Board positions.



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