Natural Security in the Democratic Party Platform

The DNC platform emphasizes the security implications of climate change, calls for a price on carbon, and seeks to use climate adaptation to grow jobs.

Photo: PBS Newshour/Flickr

The Democratic National Convention is happening this week in Philadelphia, where the party will officially nominate former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for president. As part of the convention, the party adopted its official party platform, which lays out the party’s formal positions on a range of policy issues from reforming the postal service to our strategy in Syria.

Last week, we looked at the role of natural resources, climate change, and security in the Republican platform, and this week we’ll look at the Democratic platform on these same issues.

Below are the key natural security issues promoted in the Democratic party platform:

Food

  • Promoting environmentally sustainable agricultural practices (p.20)
  • Doubling loan guarantees for farmers producing biofuels (p.20)

Water

  • Modernizing U.S. water infrastructure, including both drinking and wastewater systems (p.8)
  • Upholding EPA regulations under the Clean Water Act (p.30)

Energy

  • Improving industrial energy efficiency (p.8)
  • Generating 50% of U.S. electricity from clean energy sources “within a decade” and transitioning the country to an entirely clean-energy economy by midcentury (p.27)
  • Modernizing the U.S. electrical grid (p.8, p.27)
  • Opposing oil drilling in the Arctic and off the Atlantic coast (p.29)

Minerals

  • N/A

Climate

  • Investing in local climate resiliency and adaptation measures, particularly in infrastructure (p.8)
  • Strengthening environmental standards in the core text of trade agreements (p.14)
  • Reaffirming the goals of the Paris climate agreement (p.27)
  • Pricing greenhouse gases “relative to their negative externalities” (p. 27)
  • Promoting “environmental and climate justice” (p.28)

There has been extensive coverage of the intra-party debate over the platform language, particularly between members of the platform committee who support Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and those who support runner-up Bernie Sanders. Some issues, such as the language on the Trans-Pacific Partnership and on whether or not to ban hydraulic fracking have already been thoroughly discussed, but I'd add a few notes about the platform language:

  • Carbon “pricing” versus a carbon “tax”: As reported by many journalists, one major point of debate within the platform committee was whether or not to explicitly call for a carbon tax. The platform committee eventually voted down a carbon tax proposal, and instead inserted language that called for “pricing” greenhouse gases to “reflect their negative externalities,” which is in theory exactly what a carbon tax would do, even if the platform doesn’t explicitly call it one. That being said, by “pricing” instead of “taxing” carbon, it also leaves the door open for a cap-and-trade program, another approach to emissions reductions which creates a market for carbon emissions with a fixed quantity supplied.
  • Climate mitigation and adaptation as an economic opportunity: A significant portion of the platform’s discussion on climate and energy policy is found in the “Create Good-Paying Jobs” section, which highlights the potential for climate change adaptation and mitigation to spur a growth in green jobs and infrastructure investment. There's been a lot of attention on industries that are likely to contract and lose jobs as a result of climate change mitigation efforts, but Democrats seem to be making a longer-term bet on jobs tied to the growing clean-energy market.
  • Climate as a security issue, but little on global implications: Among the many differences between the Democratic and Republican party platforms on climate and resource security, one of the most notable ones is how these issues tie into their national security platforms. The Republican platform did not reference the security implications of climate change, but did make several references to the geopolitical dimension of certain resources, such as oil and rare earth minerals. In contrast, the Democratic platform calls climate change an “urgent and clear threat to our national security” and a “threat multiplier that is already contributing to new conflicts over resources, catastrophic natural disasters, and the degradation of vital ecosystems across the globe.” However, the Democratic platform does not reference the global or geopolitical nature of natural resources, making no mention of global energy issues, international food security, or critical minerals.

Author:

Ken Sofer was a summer fellow with the Resource Security program at New America where he worked on the intersection between climate change, resource competition, and international security.