After years of sitting at the margins, a transformative climate action plan known as the Green New Deal has become a focal point in Washington, D.C. thanks to intense pressure from activists and incoming representatives like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Now, just two days into 2019, there are signs radical climate action could become an important issue in the 2020 Democrat presidential primary.
The latest sign came on Tuesday when Axios reported that presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren “supports the idea of a Green New Deal to ambitiously tackle our climate crisis, economic inequality, and racial injustice.” That makes Warren the first major official candidate to signal her support for a mix of policies and goals that would put the U.S. on track to rapidly decarbonize the economy. But a flurry of others who are likely to run have also endorsed the idea, while even more potential candidates are racing to establish their climate credentials.
Most of the fight over the Green New Deal has been focused on the House. There, Ocasio-Cortez and a cadre of likeminded incoming and current Democratic representatives and youth activists have pushed for a select committee to flesh out what a deal could look like. Leadership quashed that idea, but the fact that we’re even talking about the Green New Deal is a huge shift, and a complete 180 from the Trump administration that has been actively rolling back climate policies.
That enthusiasm in the House and the groundswell of support behind the Green New Deal is surging into the presidential campaign. Warren is the first major candidate to voice her support (albeit through an unnamed aide), a development which comes after she specifically noted that “big oil companies destroy the planet” in her video announcing her campaign. The Green New Deal’s stated goals of a just transition, and fighting inequality and climate change in tandem, also fit well with Warren’s early campaign themes.
But she’s also hardly the only presidential hopeful to support the Green new Deal. Other potential candidates who have yet to officially declare their candidacy like Cory Booker, Bernie Sanders, and Kamala Harris have also voiced support fro the idea. And yet more potential candidates have been rushing to position themselves as climate champions. Centrist Mike Bloomberg sat down with Meet the Press this past Sunday as part of an all-climate episode, while a profile of Washington Governor Jay Inslee in the Atlantic on Wednesday focused on his climate bonafides as he weighs a presidential bid.
This is all very good news. Whoever wins the Democratic nomination will be able to draw a clear distinction between themselves and Donald Trump on climate change. The ideas behind a Green New Deal has proven to be popular among many Americans. Now we’re likely to hear more about them and how different candidates would turn them into policy.
But there’s an even more important reality. With the turn of the calendar into 2019, the world now has 11 years to cut carbon emissions 45 percent or risk warming the globe more than 1.5 degrees Celsius and facing the disastrous consequences that come with it. That Democratic presidential candidates are recognizing this—or at least responding to the pressure from activists and representatives who do—is the most hopeful signal yet that one party is finally waking up to the stakes.