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Democratic presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke unveiled his climate action plan on Monday. (Photo: @BetoORourke/Twitter)

Climate Groups Applaud Beto for New Proposal, But Warn Action Plan Would Be 'Too Little, Too Late'

"Beto's decision to release a climate plan as his first policy...shows that climate change is going to be central in the 2020 Democratic primaries. If he wants to earn the support of young people he needs to show he's ready to stand up to the oil and gas lobby."

Julia Conley

Climate action groups on Monday applauded as Democratic presidential contender Beto O'Rourke released his plan for tackling the climate crisis—while acknowledging that his proposal would not go far enough to keep catastrophic climate change at bay and represented a rollback of his earlier statements about halting the warming of the planet.

O'Rourke traveled to Yosemite National Park to unveil his climate action plan, part of which he explained in a brief video posted to social media.

"We will ensure that we are at net zero greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2050 and that we are halfway there by 2030, a little more than 10 years from now," O'Rourke said.

A number of climate action leaders pointed out that this stated goal paled in comparison to a statement O'Rourke made just weeks ago in Iowa, when he told a gathering of students that he supported the "goal of getting to 'net-zero' carbon emissions by the year 2030."

The latter plan is in line with the Green New Deal, which Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.) introduced in February and for which the youth-led Sunrise Movement has been instrumental in gathering support.

"We're glad to see Beto release a climate plan as his first policy and commit to making it a day one priority for his administration," Sunrise Movement co-founder Varshini Prakash said in a statement. "He gets a lot right in this plan."

"Unfortunately, Beto gets the science wrong and walks back his commitments from earlier this month in Iowa to move to net-zero emissions by 2030," Prakash added. "Beto claims to support the Green New Deal, but his plan is out of line with the timeline it lays out and the scale of action that scientists say is necessary to take here in the United States to give our generation a livable future."

The Green New Deal's call for net-zero emissions by 2030 is based on a number of independent analyses of last year's findings by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

"The United States should reduce our emissions by 100–600 percent below current levels by 2030," the Sunrise Movement said in a statement. "That is why the Green New Deal sets an ambitious but necessary goal for a 10-year mobilization to achieve greenhouse gas neutrality here in the United States in the early 2030s."

O'Rourke's $5 trillion climate action plan also includes a proposal to "start cutting pollution immediately" on the first day of his administration; an end to new fossil fuel leases on public lands; and a reentry into the Paris climate agreement.

The climate action group Greenpeace offered praise for a number of tenets of O'Rourke's plan, calling his plans to end fossil fuel leases and tax breaks "must-haves in any plan to respond to one of the defining challenges of our time."

"But this is just the start," Greenpeace climate campaigner Charlie Jiang said.

Both Greenpeace and the Sunrise Movement noted Monday that O'Rourke declined to sign Sunrise's pledge to refuse all fossil fuel donations—a move critics feared will hamstring any effort by O'Rourke to push for meaningful climate action should he win the presidency.

"We know that fossil fuel executives are already making plans to fight back" against the Green New Deal, Jiang said. "That's why we need serious candidates like Beto to pull out all the stops to contfront the power of the fossil fuel industry."

Meteorologist and journalist Eric Holthaus added that following O'Rourke's plan would leave the U.S. doing "too little, too late" to combat the climate crisis.

"It's great that he's talking about climate, but we must do better," Holthaus wrote.

Prakash noted that O'Rourke could earn her organization's support by commiting to the Green New Deal's call for a green jobs and infrastructure plan and by pledging to keep fossil fuel money out of his campaign.

"Beto's decision to release a climate plan as his first policy and his commitment to making it a day one priority for his administration show that climate change is going to be central in the 2020 Democratic primaries," Prakash said. "If he wants to earn the support of young people he needs to show he's ready to stand up to the oil and gas lobby and push for the scale and speed of action we need."

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