CAMBRIDGE MA. – With the 2020 US presidential and congressional election quickly approaching, Lisa Friedman, climate desk reporter at the New York Times, shared her thoughts on how climate policy could be affected by the election results in the newest episode of “Environmental Insights: Discussions on Policy and Practice from the Harvard Environmental Economics Program,” a podcast produced by the Harvard Environmental Economics Program. Listen to the interview here. A transcript of the interview is available here.
Hosted by Robert N. Stavins, A.J. Meyer Professor of Energy and Economic Development at Harvard Kennedy School and director of the Harvard Environmental Economics Program and the Harvard Project on Climate Agreements, Environmental Insights is intended to promote public discourse on important issues at the intersection of economics and environmental policy.
Friedman, who joined the Times in 2017 after spending 12 years at Climatewire and E&E News, expressed her delight with the attention that climate change policy is receiving this election year, saying that it is “undeniably bigger and more substantive than it has ever been before,” noting, for example, the seven hours of climate change Town Hall discussions hosted by CNN.
“In every election that I have covered, both presidential and midterms, since I've been focused on climate change about 10 or 12 years now, we always kind of ask, ‘is this the election when climate change matters?’ And it does seem that this is the election when climate change matters,” she said.
Friedman pointed out that the news coverage during this election cycle has demonstrated that the two presidential candidates represent very different views on climate policy.
“The fact that one candidate who calls climate change a hoax, and has been openly antagonistic to climate science, and has moved to roll back climate regulations, is pitted against a candidate who calls climate change an existential threat, makes this a more salient issue to cover,” she said.
If President Trump is re-elected, Friedman said, Americans can expect more of the same policy positions that he espoused during his first term.
“President Trump has rolled back virtually every regulation that had existed to draw down emissions from power plants, from automobile tailpipe emissions, from the oil and gas sector,” she said. “One of the things that this administration has done that hasn't gotten as much attention is they have worked to not just roll back regulations, but to roll back the ability to create new regulations. And I think that is something that we'll see a lot more of.”
Friedman said that if Vice-President Biden is elected on November 3, he will push the country toward more aggressive climate policies, although Congressional support would not be guaranteed.
“Vice President Biden has pledged two trillion [dollars] over four years to boost clean energy, electric automobiles, energy efficient buildings. He has called for eliminating fossil fuel emissions from the power sector by 2035,” she said. “That is going to be a difficult sell to get through the Senate in any configuration.”
Friedman also predicted that a President-elect Biden will likely announce very early that the United States will rejoin the Paris Agreement, from which Trump withdrew US support early in his administration.
“I think you can expect some messaging very early on to the international community to remind them that throughout his campaign, he has pledged at getting back into the Paris Agreement will be a day one promise,” Friedman said. “And then comes the question of thinking … about what US reentry into the Paris Agreement looks like. Because…getting back into Paris is the easy part.”
Stavins responded that, “specifying a Nationally Determined Contribution is the significant question.”
Friedman’s interview is the 16th episode in the Environmental Insights series, with future episodes scheduled to drop each month. The next episode will feature another New York Times climate desk reporter, Coral Davenport, who will provide a post-election analysis.
“Environmental Insights is intended to inform and educate listeners about important issues relating to an economic perspective on developments in environmental policy, including the design and implementation of market-based approaches to environmental protection,” said Stavins. “We speak with accomplished Harvard colleagues, other academics, and practitioners who are working on solving some of the most challenging public problems we face.”