The Energy 202: Here's Why Pelosi is Going to Madrid for a Climate Conference

December 2, 2019
In The News

President Trump isn’t going to Spain this week for a major international climate change conference. That isn’t a surprise, given everything he’s said and done when it comes to global warming.

Here’s something slightly more unexpected: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), in the midst of a rapidly moving impeachment inquiry into the president, is planning to attend.

Coming off the long Thanksgiving holiday, Pelosi is leading a delegation of 14 other congressional Democrats to Madrid for the 2019 United Nations Climate Change Conference — more commonly known as COP25. The event begins Monday.

The trans-Atlantic trip is the latest sign that Democrats are preparing for the day Trump is no longer president — when the United States may once again starting pushing other nations to cut their climate-warming emissions.

The trip also exemplifies what Pelosi has referred to as her party’s ability to "walk and chew gum at the same time" — that is, simultaneously weigh impeaching the president while also dealing with other pressing national priorities, such as climate change.

“The U.S. is still committed to climate action, notwithstanding Trump,” Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.), a member of the delegation who chairs the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, told Power Up's Jacqueline Alemany. Some Republicans were invited to join the delegation, Castor said, but they all declined.

Or as Rep. Sean Casten (D-Ill.), another delegation member, explained in a video on Twitter, the group will be there “to represent the United States Congress and to send a clear message that we understand the existential threat that is climate change.”

The purpose of the Madrid meeting is to put the final touches on the rules governing the 2015 Paris climate accord. Protests in Chile, where the conference was originally scheduled earlier this fall, forced the United Nations to move the proceedings to the Spanish capital.

Also traveling with Pelosi are Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), one of the most outspoken senators on climate change, and three House committee leaders: Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), Science Chair Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Tex.) and Natural Resources Chair Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.).

The trip is just the most recent effort by House Democrats to keep alive the Paris climate accord while Trump is in office. Back in May, Pelosi led House Democrats to pass a bill compelling Trump to stay in the agreement, but the measure was not taken up by the GOP-controlled Senate.

The Democrats’ diplomatic effort comes as the Trump administration is sending the exact opposite message. Last month, the administration officially notified the international community it plans to withdraw from the Paris climate accord in November 2020, the earliest date the United States can pull out.

Trump has long claimed the Paris agreement puts too little of the burden of reducing emissions on China and other developing nations. He is sending a small group of career diplomats, but no political appointees, to Madrid, according to Bloomberg News.

Here's why what Pelosi, currently the country's most powerful Democrat, says and does now matters: Under the 2015 accord, nations set voluntary, nonbinding pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Even though nations will not be punished for failing to meet those targets, the original idea behind the accord was that, over time, the United States would wield its soft power to pressure other nations to do so.

The message Pelosi is sending to the rest of the world with her trip is that if her party retakes the White House next year, the United States will once again take meeting emissions targets seriously.

“On behalf of the U.S. Congress, I am proud to travel to COP25 to reaffirm the commitment of the American people to combating the climate crisis,” Pelosi said in a statement.

Almost every Democratic presidential candidate is on the same page, promising to reenter the Paris climate accord as soon as they get into the White House. “On day one, I will get us back into the international climate change agreement,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) said during a Democratic debate in September.

But no matter who wins the 2020 race, the challenge of stopping dangerous, runaway climate change will be monumental.

According to a bleak U.N. report issued ahead of the climate conference, only unprecedented cuts in carbon emissions will give the world a chance to avoid the worst effects of climate change.

Speaking on Sunday ahead of the conference, U.N. Secretary General António Guterres said efforts so far to stop global warming have been “utterly inadequate.”

“The point of no return is no longer over the horizon,” Guterres said, according to the Associated Press. “It is in sight and hurtling toward us.”