On Capitol Hill today an unusual dialogue took place involving U.S. senators and congressmen and more than 80 visiting lawmakers and officials from a score of the world's largest energy consuming nations. The two-day Legislative Forum on Climate Change comes at a time when there is growing domestic and international pressure for the U.S., the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gasses, to take an active role in addressing a problem that has been largely created by the high-income industrialized countries but will place a heavy burden on poor people in the developing world.
Becasue of the crucial importance of U.S. climate policy on developing countries, I asked Christopher Connell, a former AP reporter, to cover the Forum for Views from the Center. Chris filed the following report:
Three senators pushing for U.S. action to combat global warming assured an unusual gathering of international lawmakers on Capitol Hill Wednesday that the political tides are turning and bipartisan support growing for support of action on the problem threatening the world’s economy as well as its environment.
Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), who helped bring the parliamentarians to Washington and arranged for them to meet in the historic Senate Caucus Room, said, “Unquestionably, the U.S. has been slow to provide leadership on this issue…. We are trying to correct that.”
Bingaman, chairman of the Senate Energy Committee, said the political ground began shifting in the 2006 elections. “When all the people agree, the politicians can’t be far behind,” he told the Legislators Forum on Global Change, which drew 80 lawmakers and leaders from a score of countries, principally the Group of Eight and five of the fastest growing developing countries, Brazil, China, Mexico, India and South Africa.
Bingaman noted that hundreds of U.S. mayors and several states have endorsed strong action on global warming. “Washington can’t be far behind. We are going to tee this issue up and get consensus between Congress and the administration,” he said.
He was followed to the microphone in the marbled, high ceilinged Caucus Room by Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), chair of the Senate Environment Committee, and Olympia Snowe (R-ME), both leaders in pushing for the United States to do more to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that threaten to raise sea levels, play havoc with weather and retard economic growth.
On a day when the nation’s capital was in the grip of an ice storm – the two-day meeting began 15 minutes late, but the rest of the federal government opened two hours late – Boxer told the delegates, “The debate over whether or not there is global warming is over.” Boxer, who chairs the Senate Environment Committee, said, “Some in the Senate are still saying it’s a hoax and there’s no such thing. Most of us have decided to move on and engage in the debate about what are we going to do to meet the challenge.”
Boxer, whose state of California enacted its own strict curbs last year on emissions, said, said, “I do not approach this issue with fear. I approach it with hope. We will rise to the occasion. We need to have the political will to get it all going.”
Snowe, who co-chaired an international task force of lawmakers looking for ways to address global warming through market mechanisms and other strategies, said, “Overall, sentiment in the Senate is moving in the right direction.” But she added, “Time is not on our side. We have reached the critical mass” on the scientific and technical issues, but “the question is: How can we reach a political critical mass?”
The so-called G8+5 countries produce two-thirds of the planet’s greenhouse gases. The United States alone, with 5 percent of the world’s population, produces 20 percent.
The forum attracted corporate leaders who have called for action to combat warming, and Sir Nicholas Stern, the British treasury official who wrote a major report last fall warning of the economic consequences of warming, was delivering a keynote address Wednesday afternoon.
In a video played at the forum, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the current president of both the G8 and the EU, said, “Humanity is facing a real challenge.” The evidence is clear that the climate is changing, Merkel said.
Merkel told the parliamentarians that they were in “the ideal place to follow up on these signals” and to help make recommendations that could influence actions taken by the G8 and other countr4ies of the world.
Stavros Dimas, the European Commissioner for Environment, drew laughter when he closed his remarks by recalling something Winston Churchill said in a speech to the U.S. Congress some six decades ago. “Americans always do the right thing – after they have exhausted all other possibilities,” he said.