Time is now for increased climate focus at home and abroad

Dec 10, 2015
Rep. Paul Tonko

For years Democrats on the Energy and Commerce Committee have asked for a hearing on the effects of climate change. And for years, that simple request – that we have an honest discussion before the oldest standing committee in the House about a problem faced the world over – has been denied.

So, last month, we held our own forum on climate change. Unfortunately, only Democratic members of the committee attended. We still hold out hope that our committee will examine this issue under regular order. However, we cannot stand idly by and wish it to occur while ignoring the consequences of inaction.

On Nov. 19, in the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center, nearly a dozen members of Congress from around the country joined five witnesses from around the world, including a representative from the French embassy, to discuss the road to the 2015 Paris Climate Conference this December, commonly known as COP21.

Now that COP21 is underway, we are seeing where the rubber meets the road. With the United States leading the way, more than 180 countries have already made pledges to act on climate, outlining their commitments to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. These commitments come from the European Union and other developed nations, as well as major developing nations, such as China, India and Brazil – covering approximately 95 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. This creates incredible momentum for an agreement to take place in the ensuing conference and it demonstrates the potential to achieve real progress using a bottom-up, inclusive approach to climate policy.

Opponents of climate change use “doom and gloom” rhetoric to make claims that the United States will be at a disadvantage if we act alone, creating a false choice between a healthier environment and more robust economy. But those claims ignore the facts. We have always been able to improve the air we breathe and the water we drink while simultaneously growing our economy and creating jobs. Unfortunately, while President Obama and our international negotiators work hard to bring many of the world’s polluters to the table to address climate change in a serious way, the House of Representatives continues to advance bad policy that would do the exact opposite. This week the House is considering H.R. 8, what some have called ‘Trading Our Future for Fossil Fuels Now Act’. The House also voted on two resolutions which would block the major clean energy executive actions that were introduced in the Clean Power Plan to cut emissions from power plants.

We harness three times as much electricity from the wind and more than twenty times as much from the sun as we did when President Obama took office. Why would we want to go backward? Going green does not sap our potential to create jobs. Establishing a framework for long-term action does not handcuff American businesses. It helps companies to innovate and expand their chances to compete in new job markets. In fact, over 150 U.S. companies with more than 11 million employees have signed the White House’s American Business Act on Climate pledge, which declares support for an ambitious agreement in Paris and commitments to a range of action.

Even opponents of acting on climate change must admit that our biggest competitors, like China, are making serious commitments. Less than one day into the talks, nations – both developed and developing– embraced the path towards a greener future. France and India launched the International Solar Alliance on Monday morning, which will bring 120 countries together to act as a foundation for solar technology sharing – an alliance that sets a goal of achieving universal access to sustainable energy by 2030. Through Mission Innovation, 20 nations have committed to double their investment in clean energy research and development over the next 5 years. These talks already brought exciting news from philanthropists like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg as well. On Monday, they committed to forming a fund worth billions of dollars to invest in new clean energy technologies. 

An agreement in Paris will not solve our climate crisis on its own, but it would be an important step forward. It would represent the innovation and cooperation the United States must embrace if we are to continue to be a world leader. We must work even harder to create an enduring framework to ensure countries continue to update their emissions targets on a regular basis. Only by reducing greenhouse gas and pollution targets will we be able to pass on a cleaner, healthier, safer planet to future generations. And by meeting our own commitments, we will lead by example to usher in an age of sustainable environment through renewable energy and grow our economy at the same time.

Tonko represents New York’s 20th Congressional District and has served in the House since 2009.  He sits on the Energy and Commerce and the Science, Space and Technology committees.


Posted to The Hill, Dec 8, 2015