U.N. climate chief Christiana Figueres called yesterday for urgent action and an end to partisanship on global warming, warning that the planet is on "borrowed time."
Speaking in the U.S. Senate, where climate change has been the focus of bitter ideological battles, Figueres' lament over how polarizing the issue has become was echoed by the World Bank as well as U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern.
Yet the event sponsored by Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), aimed at galvanizing domestic legislation on climate change worldwide, seemed hardly an auspicious start to an attempt to reach climate change bipartisanship. With not a single congressional Republican present, House and Senate Democrats placed the burden of shifting the tone in the United States squarely on GOP shoulders.
"I just want to give you a sense of what we're up against with some of our right-wing people," Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) told the more than 100 legislators from dozens of countries gathered for the meeting. Of Congress' climate skeptics, she said, "it is just shocking that they feel this way."
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told the foreign gathering that respect for science is "tricky sometimes in the Congress of the United States."
And Markey blasted the "intellectual poison" of those who deny that human activity is the cause of rising global temperatures.
"We know the stakes," Markey said. "The planet is warming at an alarming rate. There are no emergency rooms for sick planets. We have to engage in the preventative care that makes it possible to avoid the worst, most catastrophic effects of climate change."
Nations have vowed to craft a new climate treaty to be signed in Paris at the end of 2015. A study by GLOBE International and the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment unveiled at the meeting found that about 500 laws addressing climate change now exist in more than 60 countries. Those laws, U.N. leaders said, will be critical building blocks of a global deal (ClimateWire, Feb. 26).
'Help the planet,' asks U.N. climate chief
"Nothing can be agreed internationally until enough is agreed nationally," Figueres said. She called overcoming climate partisanship in all countries "an urgent challenge" and took pains to criticize both conservative and liberal extremes.
Figueres pointed to job growth, public health and security as the "golden triangle" of areas in which lawmakers can find common ground, pass legislation "and, by the way, help the planet," adding, "I urge you to reach out to colleagues across the political spectrum and help them see policy at home with co-benefits for growth and climate is also an international path to a better tomorrow for all."
Stern, too, said he hopes to "get back to the days when practical, pragmatic legislation can be passed." But in outlining the Obama administration's efforts to address climate change using executive authority in the absence of U.S. legislation, Stern also offered a dose of reality.
"Most action in Congress right now is unfortunately not in the cards," he said. "Climate change has become a sharply polarized issue in our political culture."
That hasn't stopped the United States from moving forward on joining a 2015 agreement, though. Stern said the United States is on its way to meeting its current emissions goal of cutting carbon dioxide output 17 percent below 2005 levels by the end of this decade. And, he said, the administration is working to develop new targets for the years after 2020, which along with contributions from other countries will form the basis of the new global deal.
But the White House has been tight-lipped about the process for developing post-2020 emissions goals, and yesterday, Republicans demanded answers. Citing a ClimateWire story revealing that at least three interagency meetings have taken place to discuss scientific and economic modeling for new targets, Senate Environment and Public Works Committee ranking member David Vitter (R-La.) said the "ill-defined" interagency process was a cause for grave concern (ClimateWire, Feb. 11).
Republicans demand details on Obama climate agenda
"This is not the first time this Administration has quietly developed a sweeping regulatory agenda behind closed doors that will have significant impacts on our nation, its people, and its economy," Vitter along with Sens. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), John Boozman (R-Ark.), James Inhofe (R-Okla.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) wrote in a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry.
They demanded details about the Obama administration's efforts to devise new targets, including the options that are being considered, the opportunity for public input and whether a 2015 international agreement will be sent to the Senate for ratification.
Asked about Markey's climate meeting yesterday and prospects for a 2015 global deal, Vitter in a statement to ClimateWire said other countries should act.
"Until some of the world's largest carbon emitters, like China, India, and Russia, actively implement regulations on carbon emissions, we in America shouldn't punish ourselves economically," he said. "It doesn't make sense to put ourselves at a competitive disadvantage, in which energy costs could increase and domestic jobs could be lost. We should also be wary of the politically driven narrative from far-left environmental groups that discourage critical thinking."
Those are precisely the types of concerns that the authors of the GLOBE study said are based on false premises. Developing countries, and particularly emerging economies like China, the report finds, are actually leading the way in domestic climate legislation.
"This study blows out of the water [arguments] from those who resist action, who say, 'Why should we be the only ones to go alone and put our countries at a competitive disadvantage?" said GLOBE Deputy Secretary-General Terry Townshend. "You're not alone."