Aug 21, 2020 - Energy & Environment

Biden emphasizes climate change during his biggest moment

A microphone where the ball looks like a globe

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Joe Biden emphasized climate change in his speech accepting the Democratic nomination Thursday night, as the days leading up to it offered fresh evidence of the problem's scale and tensions within his coalition.

Why it matters: It was a statement of priority in the most important speech of Biden's campaign to unseat President Trump, and the address mentioned the topic repeatedly.

  • It came amid a heat wave and big wildfires in California, reminders of the impact of global warming (though climate is among several forces that boost fire risks and intensity).
  • Earlier in the night, California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) gave remarks not far from the site of one of the fires in his state. "The hots are getting hotter, the drys are getting drier. Climate change is real. If you are in denial about climate change, come to California," he said.

What he said: Biden listed climate among the four "historic crises" facing the U.S., alongside the pandemic, the economic crash and the need for racial justice.

  • The U.S. must confront the "undeniable realities and accelerating threats of climate change," the former vice president added.

The big picture: Biden tethered climate to his economic message and plans, calling it an "enormous opportunity."

  • "An opportunity for America to lead the world in clean energy and create millions of new good-paying jobs in the process," he said, a theme echoed by other speakers during the week.
  • That's something to watch because it could signal, if he wins, near-term efforts to push major climate-related spending through Congress as part of the economic response to the pandemic, something we wrote about here.
  • Biden's plan calls for $2 trillion in new investments over four years in clean energy and climate-friendly infrastructure programs.

Yes, but: This week also showed policy divides within the Democratic coalition that would probably surface again if Biden wins, and if Democrats regain the Senate, which would open the door for legislative steps.

  • There was the dust-up over the removal of language opposing fossil fuel subsidies from the party's nonbinding platform, though Biden's team sought to smooth it over by re-upping his anti-subsidy stance.
  • Check out Axios' Dan Primack's chat on the Axios Re:Cap podcast with New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D), a Biden surrogate.
  • Grisham opposes Biden's position that fracking should be banned on federal lands, but her stance contrasts with some activists who say Biden's agenda should take an even more aggressive stance on fossil fuels.
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