The 20th century will forever be marked by the second world war, when a tyrant arose as a political leader, forcing a generation to link arms and fight.

Our 21st century, it has been said, will be remembered for the global temperatures rising, again compelling a generation to stand up.

Climate change is the greatest challenge our planet faces today, and yet the immediacy of the situation is still not apparent or even real for huge sections of society.

It is quite clear that the next president of America will dictate both the national and international direction of climate policy. But, the direction really is not yet obvious, as the divide of opinion on this issue is so huge between the candidates. Will the winner continue the effort made by Obama, or halt the colossal transition to renewable resources?

It has taken Obama all too long to end the debate and move forward with action, with his climate policies not breaking through congress, and often falling on deaf ears. He began his time in office with much hope, claiming that it was time “to end the tyranny of oil”. 

However, over his two terms in office America has fallen victim to some of the warmest years in recorded history, and has seen some of the largest and most devastating fires burn across its country. According to the National Climate Assessment, the summers are longer and hotter than they ever have been before, floods are becoming more frequent, especially in the Midwest and the Northeast, and the Arctic ice is receding.

Economically, the warming will create challenges against the reliability of water supplies, in the disruption of energy supplies, against the capacity of transportation, and in crop and livestock production, among others. Obama has been clear, despite his failures, and he understands the severe national issue at hand. With The Clean Power Plan, he has finally began the challenge to lead the international effort of resource transition. The plan that sets out to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 32% from 2005 levels by 2030 is promising, but its continuation past his term is really in the balance. It could be eight years too late.

The US presidential election in 2016 will determine who the baton is handed over to, and whether they will sustain the fight, increase it, or surrender altogether. The leaders in the presidential race differ greatly on their views on climate change, with some having it at the forefront of their campaign, while others not at all. This divide highlights an ongoing dispute in American politics over its importance. It was only at the beginning of this year that congress approved the amendment that shockingly states that, “climate change is real and not a hoax.” Though, the majority voted against the fact that it is being caused by humans.

So, where do the leading candidates stand on this controversial issue?

Donald Trump is currently the leading Republican candidate, waving issues such as immigration at the front of his campaign. He has been questioned over his views, or rather beliefs, on climate change before. His statements such as “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S manufacturing non-competitive”, show clearly where he stands, and why he hasn’t put forward any proposals to reduce emissions. He, at best, acknowledges global warming as a vague concept that has been fabricated. In other interviews he has said that he doesn’t believe in it, or that it is not a big problem for the US.

Pushing policies on pro-life and the balancing of the national budget, Ben Carson is currently polling second behind Trump for the Republican candidacy. Carson this year told an audience at the University of New Hampshire that climate change is simply a fluctuation in temperature, and if it were not happening he would be more worried. He also claims that he has not seen any overwhelming science in its favour. Overall, he is not convinced by the threat it poses, and believes that what we are experiencing is cyclical.

Not accepting the science is a common theme among Republican candidates, true also of Marco Rubio. Rubio is sitting on the fence with this issue, welcoming the scientific evidence for the reality of climate change, but rejecting the evidence claiming that it is partly caused by man. He also believes that any laws or future policies will not “do anything about it, except it will destroy our economy”. He has said that he will lift the ban on oil exports, and stop the Clean Power Plan, if elected.

Jeb Bush’s position on climate change has up until recently been really very blurry, and often changing. Earlier this year though, he took his position on the more liberal side of the debate, stating that, the “climate is changing; I don’t think anybody can argue it’s not. Human activity has contributed to it”. Also, he admits that America should take steps to deal with the issue. However, whether this stance will turn into action is another thing. He has no plans as yet to combat climate change if elected, and no specific proposals to reduce emissions. Further, he has also said he would reverse the Clean Power Plan.

Hillary Clinton is the leading Democrat candidate, with her main issues including the climate and energy. Her view is that it is an “urgent challenge that threatens all of us”, and that it requires “bold action” to make the US a clean energy superpower. Clinton also has been campaigning clear goals, of which are the installation of more than half a billion solar panels across the country, and to generate enough renewable energy to power every home in America within 10 years. These are huge proposals, showing her understanding of the situation, and her willingness to act.

“This is a major crisis”, Bernie Sanders declares climate change as the biggest threat to national security. He firmly believes that it ‘is real, catastrophic, and largely caused by human activities’. Sanders clearly states that the US must lead the world on this issue, and has proposed several key ideas, all of which focus on breaking the country’s dependency on fossil fuels. He has a strong history on the subject, and often challenges climate deniers, and has even criticised Clinton, saying that her proposals are “not enough.”

According to NASA, ’97 percent of climate scientists agree that climate-warming trends over the past century are very likely due to human activities’.

In a publication intended to inform critical policy debates for decision makers, policy makers, and educators, from the Royal Society and the US National Academy of Sciences, called Climate Change Evidence & Causes’, it states that the ‘evidence is clear’, and that it is ‘now more certain than ever’, presenting the reader with numerous lines of evidence that humans are changing the Earth’s climate. The extensive publication concludes with the important debate that must be had.

The presidential campaign has really only just begun, and the result is well and truly in the balance. Also not yet decided is the fate of America in a rapidly shifting global climate. Further warming is inevitable, but the extent of the effects is completely dependent on what happens next.

The result of this election, bearing in mind the contrast in opinion of the candidates, will determine whether America will take a positive step in moving away from fossil fuels, or moving toward the frightening alternative.