Briefing: Biden Versus Sanders on the Common Sense Climate Policies Voters Want


March 13, 2020

Washington, DC — The first head-to-head Democratic primary debate between Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders will take place this Sunday in Washington, DC, and the climate crisis continues to rank as a priority issue for voters [1]. Specifically, policies to rein in the fossil fuel industry and deliver a Green New Deal have gained traction with voters over the course of the primary, entering the political mainstream and forcing a more ambitious discussion of climate policy than in any previous election cycle [2].

Donald Trump’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic — which thus far has included attempting to bail out the oil industry [3] — shows that he is wildly unprepared in the face of a global emergency. With the climate crisis a top issue for people across the country, the eventual Democratic nominee needs to champion bold, visionary climate policies that turn out voters in November.

Since May 2019, Greenpeace USA has maintained a scorecard [4] to evaluate and rank each candidate’s climate platform. To determine the ranking, we reviewed each candidate’s legislative records, public statements, and responses to a 29-question survey on two criteria. First, their commitment to end the fossil fuel era by enacting policies to halt oil, gas, and coal expansion, phase out existing production, and center fossil fuel workers and climate-impacted communities in the transition to a renewable energy economy. And second, their vision for a Green New Deal, including mobilizing towards 100 percent renewable energy for all, creating millions of family-sustaining jobs, and securing a better future for communities that have borne the brunt of fossil fuel industry exploitation.

On the Republican side, Trump remains in last place with an F, the only candidate to earn zero out of a possible 100 points. With just two Democratic contenders left, here’s how they stack up.

Bernie Sanders: 94/100 (A+)

Sanders remains the only candidate in the field to earn an A+ in our ranking. He has championed polluter accountability on the campaign trail and was an original co-sponsor of the Green New Deal resolution in the Senate.

At the upcoming debate, Sanders would do well to highlight the following elements of his climate platform that are popular with Democratic voters, especially young voters:

  • The scope and ambition of his plan to phase out the oil, gas, and coal industries, including policies to end fossil fuel production on public lands, ban fossil fuel subsidies, reinstate the crude oil export ban, and make polluting corporations pay into a resilience and recovery fund for climate-impacted communities.
  • His just transition plan, including investments that would create millions of family-sustaining, union jobs in renewable energy, job retraining for fossil fuel workers, and benefits and wage guarantees.
  • His vision for a Green New Deal, which includes a $16 trillion investment in renewable energy industries and a plan to confront the fossil fuel executives who knowingly created the climate crisis.

See Bernie Sanders’ full climate plan at:

Joe Biden: 72/100 (B+)

After debuting with a D- in our original ranking and facing pressure from activists, Biden released a far more ambitious climate platform in June 2019, good enough for 72 out of a possible 100 points. He has been particularly clear about the need to end fossil fuel subsidies, and to protect workers in the struggling coal industry with a just transition to renewable energy.

In order to win over climate voters, however, he should commit to the following policies on Sunday’s debate stage:

  • Accelerate his goal of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 to 2045 or earlier, recognizing that the United States must take the lead on reaching net-zero if the world is to meet the Paris climate goals.
  • Expand his commitment to end fossil fuel leasing on public lands to include coal (it currently only covers oil and gas).
  • Affirm his commitment to reinstating the crude oil export ban, which he agreed to in a video captured by Greenpeace activists in June 2019 but has yet to address on the national stage.
  • Explicitly commit to rejecting federal permits for all new fossil fuel infrastructure.
  • Commit to upholding free, prior, and informed consent for Indigenous peoples to have self-determination over fossil fuel and other infrastructure projects, in line with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).
  • Weave detailed measures to ensure inclusion and environmental justice throughout his climate platform, assuring voters he will remain accountable to the communities on the frontlines of the climate crisis.

See Joe Biden’s full climate plan at:



[1] A recent Climate Nexus poll found that 29 percent of Democratic voters identified climate change as a top priority issue, trailing only healthcare (43 percent).

[2] A recent Data for Progress poll found broad support for the Green New Deal across Super Tuesday states, even among self-identified moderate Democrats. Similarly, a survey conducted by Civis Analytics on behalf of Greenpeace found that two in three voters in early primary states support ending the production of fossil fuels regardless of political affiliation.


[4] The interactive Greenpeace candidate scorecard is available here, a detailed breakdown by candidate is available here, and the scoring methodology is available here.

To maintain independence, Greenpeace USA does not endorse or oppose any political party, candidate, or elected official. We work to hold all candidates for office to the standard that science says is necessary to avert climate crisis, which means supporting a Green New Deal and ending fossil fuels.

Contact: Ryan Schleeter, Senior Communications Specialist, Greenpeace USA: +1 (415) 342-2386, [email protected]


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