Advocates say climate action helped break a red wave, COP27 releases a draft proposal and the incoming House Natural Resources Committee chair outlines his priorities.
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Climate hawks say midterms prove environment is a top voter issue
Democrats’ performance in the midterm elections has emboldened activists and climate hawks, who say that voters were concerned about the environment even amid persistently high U.S. gas and energy costs.
Forecasters predicted a “red wave” election due to inflation — largely driven by fuel costs — and President Biden’s unpopularity. But Democrats held on to the Senate, and they appear likely to lose the House majority by a razor-thin margin.
Exit polling indicated that despite high energy prices, and Republican attempts to tie them to Democratic policies, 9 percent of voters ranked climate change as their top issue — the same amount of people who said immigration was a top concern and more than those who answered the same for crime.
What a difference a decade makes: Pete Maysmith, senior vice president of campaigns at the League of Conservation Voters, said the results stand in sharp contrast to the Republican rout of 2010.
While those midterms are largely remembered as a referendum on the Affordable Care Act, he noted they were also marked by intense attacks on the 2009 emissions-trading “cap and trade” bill. The measure passed the House but never received a Senate vote, and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) famously ran a campaign ad in which he shot a paper copy of it with a rifle.
Meanwhile, Maysmith said, 2022 saw the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, the most ambitious climate bill in U.S. history, and no such backlash developed.
The difference, he said, is “because taking action on climate we know to be popular now even among Republican voters. It’s a different moment in time … I think Mother Nature deserves some credit for that.”
Other factors: Much of the Democratic overperformance has been attributed to a combination of voter distaste for candidates endorsed by former President Trump and backlash over the June Supreme Court decision overturning the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling.
But Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) told The Hill he suspects climate issues were also “front of mind” for many of the voters who made the difference.
“Voters for whom [climate] was their top issue, they broke heavily Democrat,” Whitehouse said, indicating climate change can be a deciding factor “when you’re winning races by 2 and 4 and 6 points.”
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) said the electorate “absolutely” rewarded climate action in the midterms, noting its particular salience with younger voters, the same demographic likely to be motivated by issues like abortion.
“I think the youth turnout absolutely reflects that, along with abortion, because we know that these are two major issues where bold action highly motivates youth turnout,” she said.
UN publishes draft climate deal
The United Nations’s climate agency on Thursday published a first-draft agreement for the COP27 climate summit, which includes a goal of keeping the average global temperature increase below 1.5 degrees but omits an India-backed push for a phase-down of fossil fuels.
The 20-page draft will likely undergo major revisions during the negotiation process in the days ahead. It includes many of the same details as the agreement reached at last year’s Glasgow conference, including averting a threshold of 1.5 degrees. While the language says it “welcomes” the inclusion for the first time of “loss and damages” funds for nations on the front lines of climate change, it contains no details of how the funds would operate.
Countries in the global south already feeling the impacts of climate change have been calling for loss and damages for years, but it has never made it into draft language before and will be the subject of contentious debate among wealthier nations about specific financial responsibilities.
So what’s in it? The draft calls for accelerating “measures towards the phase down of unabated coal power and phase out and rationalize inefficient fossil fuel subsidies.” However, it does not outright endorse a push to draw down the use of all unabated fossil fuels, including coal, gas and oil, which Indian delegates have lobbied for at the conference. Earlier this week, the U.S., United Kingdom and European Union announced their backing for the phase-down, but it is likely to face stiff opposition from nations like Saudi Arabia.
Greenpeace Asia slammed the draft in a statement, saying it largely reiterates the provisions of the 2021 agreement rather than expanding on it.
“After initially failing to even mention fossil fuels, the draft text is an abdication of responsibility to capture the urgency expressed by many countries to see all oil and gas added to coal for at least a phase down,” Yeb Saño, Greenpeace International’s COP27 head of delegation, said in a statement. “It is time to end the denial, the fossil fuel age must be brought to a rapid end.”
U.S. to back ‘unabated’ fossil fuel phaseout
U.S. climate envoy John Kerry said Wednesday that the U.S. will back proposals to phase out the use of “unabated” fossil fuels at the ongoing COP27 climate summit.
“It has to be unabated oil and gas,” Kerry told Bloomberg in Egypt Wednesday. “Phase down, unabated, over time. The time is a question, but ‘phase down’ is the language we supported.” The “unabated” distinction will open the door to continual operation of fossil fuel developments that offset their greenhouse gas emissions with technology like carbon capture.
The Indian delegation to the conference has called for phase-down plans to be expanded beyond coal to other fossil fuels like oil and gas, and Kerry’s remarks make the U.S. one of the wealthiest nations to throw its support to the idea. The European Union and the UK announced their backing Tuesday.
However, it is likely to encounter severe opposition from major oil producing nations like Saudi Arabia.
Last year’s global climate conference in Glasgow called for a phasedown of unabated coal, but did not call for reductions in the uses of other fossil fuels like oil and natural gas that are also major contributors to climate change. Calling for reductions in the use of the fuels would go a significant step farther.
The U.S. is the world’s largest producer of oil and gas.
Incoming GOP natural resources committee chair: ‘I don’t want to get boxed in’ solely focusing on climate change
Incoming House Natural Resources Chairman Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.) outlined his priorities for a Republican-majority committee on a call with reporters Thursday afternoon, identifying potential areas of bipartisan agreement but saying he did not believe climate change to be the House panel’s sole charge.
Asked how the committee will prioritize climate change in particular, Westerman replied “promoting a cleaner, healthier environment [as it] involves carbon in the atmosphere is a priority of mine, but there’s much more to the environment than carbon in the atmosphere.”
“I don’t want to get boxed into saying it’s a committee about the climate or even a committee about the environment but about good stewardship of our natural resources,” Westerman added.
Carbon emissions are the primary driver of climate change, which has been linked to more intense hurricanes and natural disasters in recent years. The drought affecting the American west, which Westerman named as a committee priority, was made about 40 percent more severe due to climate change, according to a study published in the journal Nature Climate Change.
Westerman, who is set to succeed Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) as chair, suggested the committee would push back on Biden administration energy policies, particularly pertaining to fossil fuels, but named issues he saw as opportunities for bipartisanship as well.
WHAT WE’RE READING
Jackson City Council approves interim agreement with EPA to address solution to water crisis (WAPT)
‘Vast’ mass of microbes being released by melting glaciers (The Guardian)
Meet the ‘Closer’ Who Finds the Right Words When Climate Talks Hit a Wall (The New York Times)
Facing Colorado River shortage, 30 urban suppliers pledge to target decorative grass (The Los Angeles Times)
See which states have suffered the most major weather disasters since 2011 (CNBC)
Largest dam demolition plan in history clears last federal regulatory hurdle
Energy secretary touts US announcements at UN climate conference
Lighter click: Not with a bang, but with a whisker.
That’s it for today, thanks for reading. Check out The Hill’s energy & environment page for the latest news and coverage. We’ll see you tomorrow.