Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by Climate Power — Democratic leaders vow climate action amid divide
Welcome to Monday's Overnight Energy & Environment, your source for the latest news focused on energy, the environment and beyond. Subscribe here: thehill.com/newsletter-signup.Today we're looking at President Biden and Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) pledging to take climate action, even with questions about whether they can accomplish their climate goals, a reported move on methane and the latest in a key house markup. ForToday we're looking at President Biden and Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) pledging to take climate action, even with questions about whether they can accomplish their climate goals, a reported move on methane and the latest in a key house markup.
© Provided by Quartz A group of protesters walk down a city street carrying a red banner that reads CLIMATE EMERGENCY
Even as US presidents have set the tone for the US’s action on climate change policy, much of the action happens in the states. What are these politicians doing to help—or hinder—climate policy?
The average American isn’t paying much attention. Fewer than 20% of US citizens can name their state legislators, while one-third don’t know their governor, according to a study by John Hopkins University. But state senators and representatives are often the ones making decisions about land use, extractive industries, energy efficiency, and more with the most immediate impact on constituents’ quality of life.
Advocates fear US weighing climate vs. human rights on China
U.S. envoy John Kerry’s diplomatic quest to stave off the worst scenarios of global warming is meeting resistance from China, the world's biggest climate polluter, which is adamant that the United States ease confrontation over other matters if it wants Beijing to speed up its climate efforts. Rights advocates and Republican lawmakers say they see signs, including softer language and talk of heated internal debate among Biden administration officials, that China’s pressure is leading the United States to back off on criticism of China’s mass detentions, forced sterilization and other abuses of its predominantly Muslim Uyghur minority in the Xinjiang region.
While opinion polls consistently show a majority of Americans believe that climate change is a serious issue and demand more government action, most people remain focused on the federal government.
That disconnect is the target of the political advocacy organization Climate Cabinet Action. “The American public is on board with climate action and clean energy,” says Caroline Spears, the executive director of Climate Cabinet Action. “But there is that disconnect between the way state legislators are voting and how the folks that they’re representing actually feel.”
To bring this to light, Climate Cabinet Action set out to analyze state politicans’ votes on climate policy over the last six years. It evaluated more than 3,300 state legislators across 25 states representing more than 50% of the US population on everything from renewable energy sources to the rules for pipeline protests. It then scored state politicians between 0 and 100 based on their climate action.
COP26: How the UN climate conference works, and what leaders hope to achieve
The COP26 international climate talks in Glasgow this November couldn't come at a more crucial time. © Stefan Rousseau/PA Images/Getty Images Children to gather at Parliament Square in London in early September to read their Letters to the Earth, ahead of the COP26 conference in Glasgow. A state-of-the-science report published by the UN in August showed that the world is warming faster than scientists previously thought, and that slashing greenhouse gas emissions by at least half this decade is crucial to staving off the more catastrophic impacts of the climate crisis.
Armed with their representatives voting records, the organization hopes that local advocacy groups, and voters concerned about climate change can use this information (now available in one place for the first time) to hold elected officials accountable at the ballot box. “What this tool does is show who within each state is driving policies that address climate change, and who is making those policies impossible,” says Spears.
How state politicians measure up on climate action
For anyone passingly familiar with today’s politics, this report confirmed that partisanship drives policy. Climate Cabinet Action found Democratic legislators were much much more likely to support climate measures, while Republicans were more likely to oppose them. The gap in scores between Democrats and Republicans was stark: the average Democratic score was 91, the average Republican was 27.
In German election, hunger strikers seek climate promises
BERLIN (AP) — After three-and-a-half weeks on a hunger strike, Henning Jeschke is frail and gaunt, but determined to go on, still hoping to pressure the three candidates for chancellor of Germany into meeting him for a debate about the climate crisis ahead of Sunday’s general election. For the first time in Germany, climate change is perhaps the most dominant issue in an election campaign, especially for young voters. It's at the center ofFor the first time in Germany, climate change is perhaps the most dominant issue in an election campaign, especially for young voters. It's at the center of televised debates among candidates, and five of the six main parties offer plans with varying degrees of detail for slowing global warming.
At the extremes, 335 Republican lawmakers received a zero score, while 699 politicians received scores of 100, nearly all of them Democrats, save for two Republicans and three independents. Among the states in the study, Connecticut had the most climate-friendly legislators (85% of its legislators scored 75 or above), while West Virginia had the least (just 11% with scores at or above 75).
Spears pointed out that this tool evaluates legislators' decisions on the bills that have been put in front of them, but no two policy proposals are the same—the level of ambition in pro-climate policy can vary from state to state. Earning a perfect score on the index doesn't guarantee that an individual legislator is a climate champion. "[A person's] score is limited by the strength of the votes that make it to the table," says Spears. "Really no state is doing enough on this issue right now, but what we can do is contextualize and point out ways that states can learn from each other and improve."
Polarization leads to paralysis
The primary predictor of whether a pro-climate policy would get passed was which party controlled the government. Swift action on climate was more likely to happen when one party had control of the entire state government, as is the case in Virginia. There, lawmakers passed legislation establishing the state's first clean energy standard, created an electric vehicle program, and joined a regional initiative to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, all within the span of a year, after Democrats gained control of both parts of the legislature as well as the governorship in a 2019 election.
'We've got to speed it up': US climate negotiator John Kerry discusses climate talks
Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry says all countries need to speed up their efforts to reduce emissions and limit the impacts of climate change. Kerry said Mother Nature "did a hell of a job whipping up enthusiasm to get something done" after the extreme events and record-high temperatures around the world this past year and said leaders are starting to feel the anticipation for the upcoming COP26 summit where countries will re-examine what they need to do to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees or 2 degrees Celsius.
By contrast, ambitious climate policy stalled in highly polarized state legislatures where power was split. In Minnesota's legislature—where most Democrats scored between 90-100 on the researchers' scale, and Republicans tended to score between 0 and 20—few climate bills passed. This year's legislative session saw two climate-focused bill amendments introduced, and fail along party lines in the state Senate (one to reduce carbon emissions from electric utilities, and another for environmental justice effort for disenfranchised communities). The one climate-related legislation that passed was an energy conservation bill, after three years of negotiation and debate.
On some occasions, bipartisan consensus brought about substantive change. In South Carolina, legislators' climate voting records were less riven by party loyalties. State politicians in the Palmetto State received an average score of 73 (few scored below 50). The state House temporarily banned offshore drilling in 2019 (the measure was later extended), and the state passed the Energy Freedom Act, which opened up avenues for more widespread solar energy adoption, including community solar options.
But Spears argues it was a unique set of circumstances, rather than a partisan realignment, that allowed South Carolina politicians to agree on climate efforts. The offshore drilling ban was supported by legislators across the state eager to protect the state's beaches and tourism industry. South Carolina, which lacks a local oil and gas industry, had fewer lobbyists influencing legislators as well.
How Republicans blocked cities from advancing climate solutions
The natural gas industry was losing in cities across the US. Then came an obscure tactic called preemption.While many answers to climate change require national and even international action, cities often have the unilateral power to craft local rules like building codes. But before the city of Tucson could even look at possible building reforms, the Republican-led state legislature took away its power to do so — by passing a state law that natural gas utilities are “not subject to further regulation by a municipality.
Testing if transparency leads to accountability
The next test will be if knowledge about elected officials' voting records applies pressure at the ballot box. Voters concerned about climate change will now have clear-cut data of who votes for their priorities.
So far, many people concerned about climate change don't participate in local political work like campaigning and phone banking because they don't see how important state elected officials are to enacting climate policy, says Eliza Nemser, co-founder of Climate Changemakers, an advocacy group.
Nemser sees a tool like this as a way to help voters overcome the deeply entrenched partisanship in American politics by clarifying which politician's record—not campaign promises or stump speeches—is aligned with their own priorities. And American voters agree with one another about climate change more than their representatives. In recent polling, 63% of Americans were concerned about climate change, and more than half wanted government officials to do more to take action.
"It's possible to do all of this political work through a climate lens in lieu of a partisan lens," Nemser says. "In every general election that boils down to two candidates, you're going to have a choice between a more impressive climate champion, and someone who's not. There's often a very clear-cut candidate to advocate for, and you can be blind to party affiliation."
Young activists bemoan climate inaction, demand more say .
MILAN (AP) — Youth climate activists Vanessa Nakate and Greta Thunberg chastized global leaders Tuesday for failing to meet funding pledges to help poor nations adapt to a warming Earth and for delivering too much “blah blah blah’’ as climate change wreaks havoc around the world. They even cast doubt on the intentions behind a youth climate gathering where they were speaking in Milan. Four hundred climate activists from 180 countries were invited to Italy’s financial capital for a three-day Youth4Climate summit that will send its recommendations to a major United Nations climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, that begins on Oct. 31.