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How Do the 2020 Candidates Rate on Climate Action?

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The 2020 Climate Test

Climate change is shaping up to be a major issue going into the 2020 presidential primary. A February poll found that climate action was a top issue for Democratic voters in early voting states, rivaled only by universal health care. Many candidates have promised to make the issue a priority if elected, but how to they compare to each other on the details?


350 Action has stepped in to answer that question with its 2020 Climate Test. The test grades candidates on three points.

1. Do they support the Green New Deal?

2. Have they taken action to keep fossil fuels in the ground?

3. Have they taken the No Fossil Fuel Money pledge?

"We're making it clear where 2020 candidates land on the policies and practices essential to any meaningful attempt at addressing the climate crisis," 350 Action's Executive Director May Boeve said in a statement reported by The Huffington Post. "Bold climate action that strengthens our economy and communities is not only what most Americans want ― it's also the reasonable and responsible way forward."

So far, the three candidates scoring the best are Independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, Democratic Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand. The three meet all of 350 Action's key criteria.

Three candidates do not meet any of the criteria. They are former Maryland Representative John Delaney, former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, and, unsurprisingly, current President Donald Trump, who is so far the only Republican 2020 candidate.

The others have a more mixed record:

1. New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker — Booker has endorsed the Green New Deal and has a good record on fossil fuels, but has not taken the pledge to refuse fossil fuel money.

2. South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg — Buttigieg has endorsed the Green New Deal and taken the No Fossil Fuel Money pledge, but there is not enough information on his stance on fossil fuel projects.

3. Former Housing and Urban Development Head Julián Castro — Castro supports the Green New Deal but has not taken the No Fossil Fuel Money pledge and his record on fossil fuels is not clear.

4. Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard — Gabbard has opposed new fossil fuel projects and pledged not to take fossil fuel money, but has said she is still considering the Green New Deal resolution, despite supporting the initial call for a committee on the idea.

5. California Sen. Kamala Harris — Harris has co-sponsored the Green New Deal, but she has not pledged to eschew fossil fuel money. She has voiced opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline but did not co-sponsor the Keep it in the Ground Act of 2017 or the 100 by 50 Act of 2017 that calls on the U.S. to achieve 100 percent renewable energy by 2050.

6. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee Inslee has made fighting climate change the focus of his campaign. He supports the Green New Deal and has taken the No Fossil Fuel Money pledge, but his record on fossil fuel projects is more ambiguous, according to 350 Action's research document. For example, he has been targeted by activists in Washington state over a liquefied natural gas terminal and refused to take a stance on the Dakota Access Pipeline, but has opposed the Trans Mountain Pipeline and denied permits for what would have been the largest terminal for train-carried oil in the U.S.

7. Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar Klobuchar has co-sponsored the Green New Deal, but has not signed the No Fossil Fuel Money pledge. She voted against the Keystone XL pipeline but has not co-sponsored the Keep it in the Ground or 100 by 50 Acts.

8. Former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke — O'Rourke has spoken in support of the Green New Deal, but has spoken in favor of natural gas as a bridge fuel and was taken off the No Fossil Fuel Money pledge for violating its terms.

9. Andrew Yang — Yang has endorsed the Green New Deal and signed the No Fossil Fuel Money pledge, but his platform does not specifically call for an end to fossil fuel use, though he does call for an end to fossil fuel subsidies and wants the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate carbon pollution and promote renewable energy.

The test doesn't just inform voters, it also encourages them to take action and tweet or call the candidates to pressure them on climate issues. It is possible that test has already had an impact. Since it was released Wednesday, Buttigieg signed the No Fossil Fuel Money pledge. His tweet announcing his signature was time-stamped about two hours after 350 Action's tweet promoting its test, and Buttigieg did not say if his decision was prompted by the release of the test.

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Protestors marched outside the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey on Monday, August 26, during the MTV Video and Music Awards to bring attention to the water crisis currently gripping the city. Karla Ann Cote / NurPhoto / Getty Images

By Will Sarni

It is far too easy to view scarcity and poor quality of water as issues solely affecting emerging economies. While the images of women and children fetching water in Africa and a lack of access to water in India are deeply disturbing, this is not the complete picture.

The city of Flint, Michigan, where dangerous levels of pollutants contaminated the municipal water supply, is a case in point — as is, more recently, the city of Newark, New Jersey.

The Past is No Longer a Guide to the Future

We get ever closer to "day zeros" — the point at when municipal water supplies are switched off — and tragedies such as Flint. These are not isolated stories. Instead they are becoming routine, and the public sector and civil society are scrambling to address them. We are seeing "day zeros" in South Africa, India, Australia and elsewhere, and we are now detecting lead contamination in drinking water in cities across the U.S.

"Day zero" is the result of water planning by looking in the rear-view mirror. The past is no longer a guide to the future; water demand has outstripped supplies because we are tied to business-as-usual planning practices and water prices, and this goes hand-in-hand with the inability of the public sector to factor the impacts of climate change into long-term water planning. Lead in drinking water is the result of lead pipe service lines that have not been replaced and in many cases only recently identified by utilities, governments and customers. An estimated 22 million people in the US are potentially using lead water service lines. This aging infrastructure won't repair or replace itself.

One of the most troubling aspects of the global water crisis is that those least able to afford access to water are also the ones who pay a disproportionately high percentage of their income for it. A report by WaterAid revealed that a standard water bill in developed countries is as little as 0.1 percent of the income of someone earning the minimum wage, while in a country like Madagascar a person reliant on a tanker truck for their water supply would spend as much as 45 percent of their daily income on water to get just the recommended daily minimum supply. In Mozambique, families relying on black-market vendors will spend up to 100 times as much on water as those reached by government-subsidized water supplies.

Finally, we need to understand that the discussion of a projected gap between supply and demand is misleading. There is no gap, only poor choices around allocation. The wealthy will have access to water, and the poor will pay more for water of questionable quality. From Flint residents using bottled water and paying high water utility rates, to the poor in South Africa waiting in line for their allocation of water — inequity is everywhere.

Water Inequity Requires Global Action — Now.

These troubling scenarios beg the obvious question: What to do? We do know that ongoing reports on the 'water crisis' are not going to catalyze action to address water scarcity, poor quality, access and affordability. Ensuring the human right to water feels distant at times.

We need to mobilize an ecosystem of stakeholders to be fully engaged in developing and scaling solutions. The public sector, private sector, NGOs, entrepreneurs, investors, academics and civil society must all be engaged in solving water scarcity and quality problems. Each stakeholder brings unique skills, scale and speed of impact (for example, entrepreneurs are fast but lack scale, while conversely the public sector is slow but has scale).

We also urgently need to change how we talk about water. We consistently talk about droughts happening across the globe — but what we are really dealing with is an overallocation of water due to business-as-usual practices and the impacts of climate change.

We need to democratize access to water data and actionable information. Imagine providing anyone with a smartphone the ability to know, on a real-time basis, the quality of their drinking water and actions to secure safe water. Putting this information in the hands of civil society instead or solely relying on centralized regulatory agencies and utilities will change public policies.

Will Sarni is the founder and CEO of Water Foundry.

Note: This post also appears on the World Economic Forum.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Circle of Blue.

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