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Where the Republican presidential candidates stand on climate change

Clockwise from top left: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Donald Trump, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, Vivek Ramaswamy and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
Anna Moneymaker, Brandon Bell, Win McNamee, Michael M. Santiago, Robyn Beck
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AFP (2), Ethan Miller/Getty Images
Clockwise from top left: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Donald Trump, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, Vivek Ramaswamy and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

The climate is changing. That is something all of the current presidential candidates can agree on. ​​​​​​​But that's about as far as the similarities go.

In the first GOP primary debate, moderators could not get candidates to raise their hands to signify their views on climate change when asked this question: "Do you believe human behavior is causing climate change?"

When Republicans do push for climate action, they say the focus should be on China and India — pressuring those top polluters to do more. Most GOP platforms also call for increasing domestic energy production — while continuing to rely on fossil fuels. They often oppose regulations and subsidies to incentivize clean energy production and electric vehicles.

By and large, climate is not a driving force at the macro level of American elections. But it's an issue that is top of mind for young voters across party affiliations. People of color, who are often most affected by the impacts of climate change, and women also consistently say the issue should be a priority.

Here is where Republican presidential candidates stand on the nuances of climate change.

Is climate change real and human-caused?

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All the candidates can agree that the climate is changing and that extreme weather disasters are a problem. But not all are on the same page about humans being the driving force. During the last presidential election, former President Trump said that humans caused climate change "to an extent," but then largely doubled down on calls for forest management, which he described in 2018 as raking leaves, rather than offering ideas to rein in planet-warming pollution.

There is overwhelming scientific consensus that climate change is driven by human activities, primarily burning fossil fuels. Still, many within the GOP see any acknowledgment by their presidential candidates as progress in a party that, for the last decade, has dug deeper into rejecting widely accepted science about the warming planet.

What energy sources should the U.S. expand?

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Regardless of the scientific consensus that fossil fuels are the leading cause of climate change, all Republican presidential candidates want to prioritize oil, gas and fossil fuel extraction. Former President Trump wants to "DRILL, BABY, DRILL," while also expanding nuclear and hydropower. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis wants to "unleash oil and gas exploration" — though in 2020 DeSantis blocked 20,000 acres of wetlands in Florida from drilling. While North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum prioritizes coal, oil and gas, he also wants to increase carbon capture and sequestration projects, a controversial climate solution backed by big industries and the Biden administration that would capture carbon dioxide before it leaves smokestacks and inject it deep underground.

How should the U.S. primarily confront climate change?

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The two candidates most upfront about climate change, Haley and Christie, primarily want to confront other countries like China and India about their role in reducing emissions.

China contributes the most to climate change, followed by the United States and India. Still, the U.S. is by far the largest historical contributor to climate change, along with other rich countries, and has significantly higher per capita emissions than either China or India.

None of the GOP candidates offered plans to cut planet heating emissions–what scientists say is the lynchpin to preventing global temperature increases that would trigger events like catastrophic sea level rise, mass extinctions and even more lethal heat waves.

All candidates generally discuss the U.S. role in addressing climate change through a protectionist lens — the discussion typically reverts to the development of fossil fuels — reducing reliance on foreign energy sources and domestically producing as much as possible.

Support for the Paris climate accord?

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Like former President Trump, most candidates have vowed to pull the U.S. out of the landmark 2015 Paris climate accord, under which nations pledged to cut greenhouse gas pollution to rein in climate change. Nearly 200 nations signed it, and most have developed individual plans to cut climate pollution. Under the Paris Agreement, the U.S. promised to reduce its emissions by about 25% by 2025 compared with 2005 levels. In 2021, President Biden brought the U.S. back into the agreement. He also revised the U.S. pledge, committing to cut emissions by about 50% by 2030, compared to 2005 levels.

New research conducted by an international group of scientists found that it's unlikely — though not impossible — for humanity to meet the temperature reduction targets set by the agreement in 2015. Countries would have to take even more aggressive steps to cut fossil fuel development and use, a position that runs counter to the GOP candidates' plans.

Support for carbon capture and sequestration?

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Carbon capture is a proposed climate solution backed by the Biden administration and major fossil fuel companies, utilities and other major corporations. It involves trapping carbon dioxide before it leaves smokestacks, and injecting and storing it deep underground. But the idea is highly controversial. It's expensive, and many pilot projects have failed. It has to be sent by pipeline to places where it can be injected underground, and communities nationwide, including in Red states, are pushing back against these pipeline projects.

Trump previously signed a law approving tax breaks for companiesthat use carbon capture technology. In his home state of Florida, DeSantis signed a memorandum of understanding with a South Korean company to store carbon underground in space and aerospace industrial complexes in Florida. Burgum has touted carbon capture in his state and agriculture industry.

Carbon capture technology received a boost from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which funneledbillions of dollars into carbon capture hubs. But many scientists and environmental groups argue carbon capture is an excuse to keep extracting fossil fuels. Andwhen carbon dioxide pipelines rupture, they can cause asphyxiation in humans and animal life in a sizable radius.

Do you support the Inflation Reduction Act's incentives for domestic clean energy production, electric vehicle manufacturing and electrification?

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President Biden's sweeping climate bill was shepherded through Congress without any Republican votes. It includes tax credits that have made solar and wind energy cheaper and provides tax credits to promote the use of electric vehicles. A year after it was signed into law, nearly $280 billion in investments have been made, a vast majority to Republican-held districts. Still, Republicans vying for the presidential nomination have been some of the sharpest critics of the law, vowing to take steps to strip elements of it or repeal it altogether.

Research compiled from past media interviews, current published political platforms, public town halls, social media posts, speeches and direct outreach to campaigns. Graphics by Alyson Hurt.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Ximena Bustillo
Ximena Bustillo is a multi-platform reporter at NPR covering politics out of the White House and Congress on air and in print.