Election 2020

Here's What's in Beto O'Rourke's $5 Trillion Plan To Fight Climate Change

O'Rourke wants net-zero emissions by 2050.


Beto O'Rourke, the former Texas congressman who's running for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, today released a four-part, $5 trillion plan to fight climate change.

The framework for O'Rourke's plan, which is posted on his campaign website, promises he will make quick use of his executive authority, though it also pledges the candidate will work with Congress. O'Rourke is not proposing that the federal government fully fund his plan, which sets it apart from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's (D–N.Y.) much-criticized Green New Deal. Rather, O'Rourke believes a "$1.5 trillion investment" from the federal government will "mobilize" trillions more in additional investments from the private sector to combat climate change.

Part one of the plan would use of executive authority "not only to reverse the problematic decisions made by the current administration, but also to go beyond the climate actions under previous presidents." O'Rourke says he'll reverse President Donald Trump's decision to back out of the Paris climate agreement, and he promises to strengthen emissions standards, reduce various sources of pollution, and require that federal lands plan for net-zero emissions by 2030.

Part two is where Congress comes in. "In the very first bill he sends to Congress," the plan says, "Beto will launch a 10-year mobilization of $5 trillion directly leveraged by a fully paid-for $1.5 trillion investment—the world's largest-ever climate change investment in infrastructure, innovation, and in our people and communities." How are we supposed to pay for that initial investment? The plan doesn't go into specifics, though it does say "structural changes to the tax code" will "ensure corporations and the wealthiest among us pay their fair share and that we finally end the tens of billions of dollars of tax breaks currently given to fossil fuel companies."

The proposal does give some specifics on where that $1.5 trillion will go. A total of $600 billion will be invested in "infrastructure necessary to cut pollution across all sectors," including "$300 billion in direct resources through tax credits and another $300 billion in direct resources through additional investments." Another "$250 billion in direct resources" will go to various scientific endeavors meant to determine how to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, as well as "the climate science needed to understand the changes to our oceans and our atmosphere; avoid preventable losses and catastrophic outcomes; and protect public safety and national security."

Finally, $650 billion will be spent on the people whose lives are affected by climate change. O'Rourke hopes this investment will "mobilize" additional spending in such areas as housing and transportation as Americans adapt to the effects of climate change.

The third part of the plan focuses on that guarantee of net-zero emissions by the middle of the century. "To have any chance at limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 °C and preventing the worst effects of climate change, the latest science demands net-zero emissions by 2050," the plan says. "By investing in infrastructure, innovation, and in our people and communities, we can achieve this ambition, which is in line with the 2050 emissions goal of the Green New Deal, in a way that grows our economy and shrinks our inequality." The plan promises O'Rourke will "work with Congress to enact a legally enforceable standard—within his first 100 days."

"We will harness the power of the market, but also recognize that the market needs rules in order to function equitably and efficiently—not just incentives, but accountability too," the plan adds.

The "latest science" to which O'Rourke's plan refers is a 2018 U.N. report that says the world must cut its dependence on fossil fuels by 2050. Climate activists have seized on this report, claiming we're racing against the clock to save the world. But as Reason science correspondent Ron Bailey explained last month, the doom-and-gloom predictions are exaggerated:

The IPCC asked a group of climate scientists to evaluate how it might be possible to keep the global mean surface temperature from rising 1.5°C above the average temperature of the late 19th century….The report's authors calculated that in order to have a significant chance of remaining below the 1.5°C threshold, the world would have to cut its carbon dioxide emissions by 40 to 50 percent by 2030 and entirely eliminate such emissions by 2050. So yes, the report says there's an expiration date if humanity decides to aim for that temperature target. But is it an expiration date for doom? Not so much.

According the report: "Under the no-policy baseline scenario, temperature rises by 3.66°C by 2100, resulting in a global gross domestic product (GDP) loss of 2.6%," as opposed to 0.3 percent under the 1.5°C scenario and 0.5 percent under the 2°C scenario. In the baseline 3.66°C projection, the estimate of future GDP losses ranged from a low of 0.5 percent to a high of 8.2 percent. In other words, if humanity does nothing whatsoever to abate greenhouse gas emissions, the worst-case scenario is that global GDP in 2100 would be 8.2 percent lower than it would otherwise be.

Let's make those GDP percentages concrete. Assuming no climate change and an global real growth rate of 3 percent per year for the next 81 years, today's $80 trillion economy would grow to just under $880 trillion by 2100. World population is likely to peak at around 9 billion, so divvying up that GDP suggests that global average income would come to about $98,000 per person. Under the worst-case scenario, global GDP would only be $810 trillion and average income would only be $90,000 per person. Doom?

Part four of O'Rourke's plan cites the parts of the country that have been fighting (or at least prepping for) extreme weather. O'Rourke calls for raising spending by a factor of ten "on pre-disaster mitigation grants that save $6 for every $1 invested"; he supports legislation "to make sure that we build back stronger after every disaster"; he wants to invest "in the climate readiness and resilience of our first responders"; and he says we should support U.S. troops "with technologies that reduce the need to rely on high-risk energy and water supply."

O'Rourke's climate plan is his first major policy proposal. It could set him apart from many of the other 2020 Democratic candidates—though stopping climate change is already the main platform of one other presidential hopeful, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee.