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Here's what the candidates said about climate change on opening night of the Democratic debate

By Chaffin Mitchell, AccuWeather staff writer
June 27, 2019, 10:38:39 AM EDT

Debate opening night

Ten candidates clashed on a host of issues including climate change during a Democratic primary debate hosted by NBC News at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, Wednesday, June 26, 2019, in Miami. (AP / Wilfredo Lee)

Ten Democratic presidential candidates took to the stage inside the Knight Concert Hall at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami Wednesday night for the first of two debates, kicking off the 2020 presidential debate season. The candidates tangled on a host of hot topics, which eventually, if only briefly, centered on climate change.

Just 1.5% of questions posed by NBC News debate moderators were about climate change, but viewers were able get a sense for which candidates hold the issue as a top priority and where some of them stand on the matter.

The city of Miami happens to be one of the many cities that could be partially underwater within 80 years as oceans warm and sea levels rise, some scientists have said, making it an appropriate backdrop for discussion of the topic. Due to the crowded nature of the debate stage, not every candidate had the chance to elaborate on climate change, but if you missed the event, here is a cheat sheet for which candidate said what about the topic.

At the end of the debate, candidates were asked, "What is the greatest geopolitical threat to the U.S. right now?" Four of the candidates responded with an answer of climate change.

Booker Warren

Democratic presidential candidate Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren gestures towards New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, during the Democratic primary debate hosted by NBC News at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, Wednesday, June 26, 2019, in Miami. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

Here's a recap:

Jay Inslee, Governor of Washington

"We are the first generation to feel the sting of climate change and we are the last who can do something about it," Inslee said during the debate on Wednesday night. "This is a climate crisis, an emergency, and this is our last chance in the next administration to do something about it."

"We need to do what I've done in my state. We have passed a 100% clean electrical bill," Inslee said.

"The most important decision for the American people is who is going to make this the first priority, and I am the only candidate saying this has to be the top priority of the United States, the organizing principle to mobilize the United States so we can do what we've always done - lead the world and invent the future and put 8 million people to work," Inslee said.

Beto O'Rourke, former U.S. Representative from Texas

"We in our administration are going to fund resiliency in those communities, in Miami, in Houston, Texas, those places that are on the front lines of climate change today," O'Rourke said.

"We are going to mobilize $5 trillion into the economy over the next 10 years and free ourselves of dependence of fossil fuels and put farmers and ranchers in the driver's seat," O'Rourke said. "Also, renewable and sustainable agriculture to make sure that we capture more carbon out of the air and more of it keep it in the soil," O'Rourke said.

O'Rourke wants to pay the farmers for the environmental services they want to provide and hopes everyone can prevent further warming.

Julián Castro, former U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development

Castro said he has a track record of getting things done when it comes to climate change.

"When I was mayor of San Antonio we moved our local utility and began to shift it from coal fired plants to solar and other renewable, we also created over 800 jobs doing that," Castro said.

"When I was HUD Secretary we worked on the national disaster resilience competition to invest in communities who were trying to rebuild from national disasters in a sustainable way. That's the way we are going to make sure we're all safer in the years to come and combat climate change," Castro said.

"If I was elected president the first thing I would do is sign an executive order to recommitting us to the Paris Climate Accord," Castro said.

John Delaney, former Maryland Congressman

Delaney spoke quickly about his plan to combat climate change using a carbon tax and a substantial increase to the Department of Energy's budget to spur green technology investment.

"All the economists agree that a carbon pricing mechanism works. You just have to do it right. You can't put a price on carbon, raise energy prices, and not give the money back to the American people," Delaney told the debate audience. "My proposal, which is put a price on carbon, give a dividend back to the American people. It goes out one pocket, back in the other."

Delaney insisted a carbon tax is something he could accomplish within his first year in office, drawing on bi-partisan support. "I can get that passed my first year as president with a coalition of every Democrat in the Congress and the Republicans who live in coastal states.

Tim Ryan, U.S. Representative from Ohio

Congressman Ryan was asked how to pay for climate mitigation.

"Well, there is a variety of different ways to pay," Ryan said. "We talked about different ways of raising revenue. And I think we've got to build our way out of this and grow our way out of this."

Ryan expanded on his answer to say that the Democratic party needs to connect to the working class people in Midwestern states and emphasized how investing in renewable energy could help do that.

"We've lost all connection. We have got to change the center of gravity of the Democratic Party from being coastal and elital -- elitist and Ivy League, which is the perception, to somebody from the forgotten communities that have been left behind for the last 30 years, to get those workers back on our side so we can say we're going to build electric vehicles, we're going to build solar panels."

The evening ended with a simple final question: Chuck Todd asked the candidates, "What is the greatest geopolitical threat to the U.S. right now?" Four of the candidates -- O'Rourke, Warren, Booker, Castro, -- cited climate change as the biggest threat to the U.S.

"Our existential threat is climate change -- we have to confront it before it’s too late," O'Rourke declared.

But not all of the candidates see climate change as America's top threat.

Delaney answered that China and nuclear weapons are the biggest threat, Inslee said Trump is the greatest threat to the U.S. Meanwhile, U.S. Representative from Hawaii Tulsi Gabbard replied that the risk of nuclear war is the top threat facing the U.S., and Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota said China and instability in the Middle East is her main concern. Ryan also pointed to China as the single greatest risk to U.S. interests and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio answered that Russia is the top threat.

Democratic candidates

Twenty-four 2020 Democratic presidential candidates (L-R top row): U.S. Senators Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, Amy Klobuchar, Kirsten Gillibrand, Michael Bennet and former U.S. Senator Mike Gravel. (L-R middle row): Former Texas congressman Beto O'Rourke, U.S. Representatives Tulsi Gabbard, John Delaney, Eric Swalwell, Tim Ryan, Seth Moulton, former HUD Secretary Julian Castro and former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden. (L-R bottom row): Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Former Gov. John Hickenlooper, Gov. Jay Inslee, Andrew Yang, Marianne Williamson, Mayor Wayne Messam, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. (REUTERS)

The New York Times asked the Democratic candidates before the debate whether they think it's possible for the next president to stop climate change, and results were mixed. Among the group, seven candidates, including Castro, Inslee, Delaney, Ryan, U.S. Senator Michael Bennet, de Blasio and Former Gov. John Hickenlooper, said they think the next president can stop climate change. Four candidates said no, including Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Massachusetts U.S. Representative Seth Moulton, Klobuchar and Andrew Yang, and the rest told the New York Times it will take a lot more than one president to fix the problem.

Most candidates agreed that a single president can't put a halt to climate change, but indicated they believe the U.S. should be a global leader on the issue.

“It’s not going to be one person in one office -- it has to be a movement, a renewed commitment in our country and across this planet," Cory Booker, a senator from New Jersey, told the New York Times in an interview.

While some said the next president is the last to be able to stop climate change and we only have another five or 10 years to fix it before it's too late, many say it is not going to get fixed in one presidential term but the next person in office can be a step in the right direction.

“Victory is the only option against climate change, because without victory there is not survival," Inslee told the Times.

The majority of the democratic candidates agree that climate change has to be a worldwide project, not only national. Even if the president and the country did everything possible, the United States only accounts for 15 percent of global emissions.

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Massive investments in renewable energy and working on bringing down carbon emissions were mentioned among the candidates. Before the debate, the leadership of the Democratic National Committee held firm on refusing to hold a presidential primary debate focused on climate change, despite calls from 15 candidates and more than 200,000 voters, MediaMatters reported.

The debate will continue on Thursday, June 27, when 10 other candidates will take the stage to have a chance to make themselves heard on the issues.

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