Candidates Call Climate Change An 'Urgent' Priority A cap-and-trade system on fossil fuel emissions is at the heart of both McCain's and Obama's approaches to climate change. The differences are in the details. Each also promises a far more robust response to the issue than that of President Bush.

Candidates Call Climate Change An 'Urgent' Priority

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Ethanol is just one of many alternative energy sources that come up in a conversation about climate change. We've been reporting recently on the presidential candidates' positions on issues, and climate change is one issue where John McCain and Barack Obama don't disagree on much.

Here's NPR's David Kestenbaum.

DAVID KESTENBAUM: If you're trying to figure out who to vote for, the climate change issue may not be much help. For instance, here are the candidates on the importance of the issue.

Senator JOHN McCAIN (Republican, Arizona; Presidential Candidate): The facts of global warming demand our urgent attention.

KESTENBAUM: John McCain says urgent, Barack Obama…

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois; Presidential Candidate): One of the most urgent challenges of our generation.

KESTENBAUM: …also urgent. When they paint a picture of a warmer world, it seems like they might even have the same speechwriter.

Sen. McCAIN: In the years ahead, we're likely to see reduced water supplies.

Sen. OBAMA: In record drought, famine, forest fires.

Sen. McCAIN: More forest fires than in previous decades.

KESTENBAUM: It's not unusual for candidates to agree on the problem. The devil is always in the details in how you plan to fix things. And both candidates have laid out plans.

Here's John McCain.

Sen. McCAIN: And this is the proposal I will submit to Congress if I'm elected president, a cap-and-trade system to change the dynamic of our energy economy.

KESTENBAUM: Cap-and-trade is this idea to limit cap, the total amount of greenhouse gases the country emits and let the free market figure out the best way to make it happen. Barack Obama's proposal?

Sen. OBAMA: As president, I will set a hard cap on all carbon emissions.

KESTENBAUM: The same thing. There are some differences.

Under a cap-and-trade, major emitters have to get permits for the greenhouse gases they put out. The government makes sure there is a shortage of permits, so somewhere someone has to cut back on emissions. The question is who gets the permits from the government? And that's a big question. The value of the permits could be hundreds of billions of dollars a year a decade from now.

McCain favors giving away some permits initially to ease the transition and auctioning others. Obama wants to auction them all off. Obama also favors a slightly more aggressive target for emissions reductions, which would mean fewer permits to go around. Surrogates from both campaigns faced off last month to talk about climate change.

Ken Berlin came to represent the Obama campaign and he tried to find some space between the candidates' positions.

Mr. KEN BERLIN (Co-author, "Global Warming and the Future of Coal"): They both support a cap-and-trade system. When you go beyond that, there are pretty substantial differences in the policies they propose.

KESTENBAUM: James Woolsey, former head of the CIA, represented McCain. But the two speakers barely raised their voices. McCain likes nuclear, Obama not so much. Obama favors ethanol subsidies, McCain doesn't. And for the most part, the candidates are not trying to fight each other on climate change. They're trying to show how different they are from someone else, President Bush.

Here's John McCain.

Sen. McCAIN: As president, I will not shirk the manual of leadership that the United States bears. I will not permit eight long years to pass without serious action on serious challenges. I will not accept the same dead end, a failed diplomacy that claimed Kyoto. The United States will lead.

KESTENBAUM: Barack Obama also promises a big change at the White House.

Sen. OBAMA: From the moment I take office, I will invite the world back to Washington and let it be known that the United States of America is ready to lead again.

(Soundbite of applause)

Sen. OBAMA: That we are…

Mr. JOE ALDY (Economist, Resources for the Future): Well, I think, when we compare the two candidates, there are very minor differences on climate change policy.

KESTENBAUM: This is Joe Aldy, an economist at the think tank Resources for the Future.

Mr. ALDY: One can quibble with some of the details, but at end of the day, the difference between them will get washed out in any negotiation, I would expect, between the next president and the Congress.

KESTENBAUM: The candidates share one other talking point. Actually, it's a non-talking point.

In the near term, the cap-and-trade system will raise the price of energy and of gasoline. Obama doesn't like to talk about that and neither does McCain.

David Kestenbaum, NPR News.

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