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U.S. 2020: Joe Biden and Donald Trump on Climate Change

Amazon deforestation

Fire in southern Amazonas, Brazil. (AP)

July 23, 2020

The Amazon wildfires raged just as Democratic presidential candidates kicked off their competition in 2019, making it a top challenge in terms of Latin America-related climate policy. It’s no wonder why: deforestation in the Amazon surpassed 10,000 square kilometers in 2019 for the first time in a decade and was 34 percent higher compared to 2018, per Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE).

Now, as the U.S. presidential race has narrowed to former Vice President Joe Biden and President Donald Trump, the example of the Amazon fires demonstrates the different roads each candidate would take in terms of environmental policy. While Biden proposed a $20 billion fund to protect the rainforest, Trump tweeted support for Jair Bolsonaro during the fires, despite international criticism of the Brazilian president’s handling of the disaster.

Overall, the Trump administration’s path on climate change has involved rollbacks and deregulation, from prohibiting U.S. contributions to intergovernmental climate agencies to the president’s June 2017 decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris Climate Accord. In contrast, Biden proposes rejoining the agreement, as well as implementing an investment strategy focused on clean energy and sustainable infrastructure to drive innovation “from Canada to Chile.”

AS/COA Online outlines where the presidential rivals stand on climate change policy in the Americas.

Joe Biden

On the Amazon

  • In 2019, the former Obama vice president called for global action to stop the Amazon’s destruction. In a March interview with Americas Quarterly, Biden said, “Bolsonaro should know that if Brazil fails to be a responsible custodian of the Amazon rainforest, then my administration will rally the world to ensure the environment is protected.”
  • In a March 15 Democratic debate this year, Biden proposed a $20 billion multilateral initiative to protect the South American rainforest, saying he would organize “the hemisphere and the world to provide” the funds for Brazil to control the wildfires.

On clean energy

  • As part of his climate action plan, Biden released a $2 trillion plan on July 14 to boost investment in clean energy technology and halt harmful emissions from U.S. power plants by 2035. He plans to spend this sum over four years, on top of his previously proposed $1.7 trillion-over-one-decade plan to end U.S. carbon emissions by 2050.
  • In the Caribbean and the Northern Triangle, he supports promoting transitions to clean energy, as well as climate change adaptation strategies related to rising sea levels, severe weather patterns like hurricanes, and drought in places such as eastern Guatemala.
  • Per his proposed hemispheric strategy on sustainable infrastructure to drive innovation, he backs better-integrated power grids supplied by clean energy from Mexico through Central America to Colombia.

On the Green New Deal

On international climate agreements

On the effects of natural disasters in the region

  • In light of damage caused by Hurricane María in 2017, Biden announced that he will create a federal working group for Puerto Rico to ensure access to resources and technical support. In addition, he proposes to “address the existential threat of climate change head on” through a $1.7 trillion clean energy proposal to invest in resiliency so that the island can better prepare for natural disasters and mitigate destruction in their wake. Biden also plans to include Puerto Rico in his $1.3 trillion infrastructure project for rebuilding sustainably.
  • Biden proposes coordinating strategies with governments in the Northern Triangle (El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras) and the Caribbean to lessen the effects of climate change on economic development, in part through transitions to clean energy.

Donald Trump

On the Amazon

On clean energy

On the Green New Deal

  • In a February 2019 rally in El Paso, Trump denounced the Green New Deal, saying it is a measure that would “shut down” U.S. energy and air travel. On another occasion two months later, Trump said, “If they beat me with the Green New Deal, I deserve to lose.”

On international climate agreements

On the effects of natural disasters in the region

  • As a Hurricane Dorian headed for Puerto Rico in August 2019, Trump tweeted, “Will it ever end?” adding that Congress had already approved a $92 billion disaster relief aid package for the island in the previous year. He called the package “an all time record of its kind for ‘anywhere’.” However, of the $42.5 billion Congress allocated as disaster aid for Puerto Rico following the 2017 storms, the island had received about $14 billion as of November 2019. By January 2020, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development had released only $1.5 billion in relief funds, of which only $5 million were spent.
  • In June 2019, the Trump presidency said it would reallocate $370 million in foreign aid to Central America approved by Congress for fiscal year 2018 after the president said that El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras had failed to stem emigration. The aid cut came despite an internal report shared with Homeland Security officials indicating climate change will hit food security in these countries, leading to increased migration to the United States.