‘A joke’: Dems grouse about House Republican plans for COP28

By Emma Dumain | 12/01/2023 06:22 AM EST

House Democrats are anxious about being left out of the action at the U.N. climate talks in Dubai. Republicans plan to talk up fossil fuels and emission reductions.

Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.).

Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), a climate hawk, says Republicans "want to pimp fossil fuels" at the COP28 meeting. Francis Chung/POLITICO

House Republicans are preparing to send more than a dozen of their own members to this year’s United Nations climate summit in the United Arab Emirates city of Dubai — a record number for the GOP that not so long ago was a party seeped in climate denialism.

But instead of celebrating a new era of Republican engagement on climate action, Democrats are grousing that they are being sidelined by colleagues they say don’t have any desire to meaningfully engage in the high-stakes talks known as COP28.

“They’re clearly not interested in putting the best team on the field for climate action,” said Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), the ranking member on the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Wildlife and Fisheries.


“The delegation itself will be a joke because Republicans want to pimp fossil fuels everywhere they go, so that’s what they’re going to be talking about.”

Huffman said he asked to participate in the House’s official COP28 delegation, which is being run out of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and co-led by Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) and ranking member Frank Pallone (D-N.J.).

“I was declined when I reached out to their [congressional member delegation],” he said, saying the response from Republicans was, “‘Sorry, no room.’”

The number of Republicans likely to attend COP28 at the end of next week could be as many as 17, based on some counts shared with E&E News by members and aides, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to share private details of the trip that remain somewhat fluid. At the same time, the number of Democrats expected to attend could be as few as four or six.

All participants are expected to hail from E&C, of which Huffman is not a member. A formal list of attendees is still in flux and not yet public due to security protocols.

A lopsided party ratio is not uncommon for congressional delegations, where it’s the majority’s prerogative to pick more of its own members than that of the minority.

Republicans are also quick to point out that this will be the first bipartisan COP delegation from the House side of the Capitol in recent memory, as then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) would typically take an army of Democrats.

“This is an historic, bipartisan House delegation going to COP28, and we’re looking forward to promoting America’s leadership in energy and reducing emissions,” said an E&C Republican aide in a statement to E&E News.

Nancy Pelosi.
Then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) at the 2022 climate summit in Egypt. | Peter Dejong/AP

Still, Democrats contend it’s unfair that more of them aren’t getting a seat at the table now, when they want to travel to Dubai to actively support the Biden administration’s efforts to enter into global agreements to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

House Natural Resources Committee ranking member Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) said Democrats from his panel should have been under consideration for participation along with members from E&C.

“The people who are putting the time into climate legislation, for them not to have the opportunity to engage at that level [at COP28] — that bothers me,” he said.

“The official House delegation going to COP28 should be touting the historic climate wins of the Inflation Reduction Act that are already bearing fruit in the global market,” a senior House Democratic aide echoed. “Instead, the House Democrats who voted for and secured those wins are being sidelined and replaced by pro-fossil-fuel Republicans.”

And even though Senate Democrats will also be at COP28, many Democrats worry there won’t be a strong enough counterweight from their side of the aisle to the House Republicans who say they are traveling to COP28 to “celebrate” U.S. gains in reducing emissions while maintaining energy dominance — not to endorse new agreements or targets that could result in additional regulations or executive actions conservatives fear will stifle business or undercut the fossil fuel industry.

McMorris Rodgers said this week her objectives were to “highlight American energy and environment solutions that are bringing down carbon emissions, and we’ve done it more than any other country in the world, and the importance of embracing innovation and technology to help solve this problem.”

‘A good group’

Rep. John Curtis (R-Utah), who has attended two previous summits in his capacity as chair of the Conservative Climate Caucus but is traveling to COP28 as a member of the E&C delegation, conceded it was “possible” some Republicans on the trip were going to Dubai to be combative and antagonistic toward the conference’s larger goals.

“I didn’t get to invite the list of Republicans that are going — not all of them are part of my caucus,” he said. “But I have to be OK with that. They’re certainly going to have opinions. But my experience is, the more people are involved in this, the more they move along the continuum.”

Three House Democrats have confirmed their participation with the committee delegation to E&E News: Pallone and California Reps. Scott Peters and Nanette Barragán.

Peters, a moderate who works closely on climate issues with Curtis, said Republicans were “sending a good group” to the summit.

Barragán, a progressive, said she planned to “speak at as many opportunities as possible in Dubai that are separate from the group to talk about the clean energy stuff, the need to move off of fossil fuels and the harm that we’re seeing in emissions from [liquefied natural gas], things like that.”

Pallone, meanwhile, said he was hopeful the summit would present a way to “educate” some Republicans.

He added, “maybe I’m being too optimistic. … The problem is that they want to continue to emphasize fossil fuels and think there’s some way to continue to use coal and natural gas in a way that reduces emissions, and I don’t think that’s the priority.”

Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.).
House Energy and Commerce ranking member Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) will be leading House Democrats at the COP28 climate summit. | Francis Chung/POLITICO

Democrats’ anxiety about being left out of the action is compounded by their anxiety about the larger dynamics on the ground in Dubai.

COP28 President-designate Sultan al-Jaber is the CEO of the UAE’s state-run oil company, which has sent the signal to the oil and gas industry that their presence is welcome for this year’s discussions. In previous years, fossil fuel interests felt constantly under attack.

Progressive climate hawks, however, worry about too warm a welcome. Those concerns were not assuaged by leaked documents published Monday revealing that the UAE has schemed to use its position as host country to discuss oil and gas deals with more than a dozen countries.

Amid all this, one group of House members is hoping to distance itself from the fray entirely.

Rep. Andrew Garbarino (R-N.Y.) is separately going to Dubai in his capacity as co-chair of the bipartisan House Climate Solutions Caucus, which is evenly split between Democrats and Republicans.

True to the ethos of the caucus, he is leading an evenly split delegation of four Democratic and Republican members each alongside his co-chair, Rep. Chrissy Houlahan (D-Pa.).

He described a “packed, 48-hour schedule” of meetings with foreign leaders and businesses “to learn, as a group, what we can do in a bipartisan way” to fight climate change.

“We’re going because we are supportive, to be part of the conversation, to figure out how as a planet we can lower our emissions,” said Garbarino.

The Climate Solutions Caucus and E&C Republicans, he said, “have different things we’re trying to accomplish … they’re focused on their thing, we’re going to be focused on ours.”

This story also appears in Climatewire.