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United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) in Dubai

Lawmakers head to COP28 climate summit with high expectations

Both Democrats and Republicans are heading to the United Arab Emirates this weekend for the UN’s annual climate conference — but with vastly different missions.

Republicans see COP28 as a chance to promote conservative ideas on the global stage, like maintaining reliance on fossil fuels while advancing cleaner-burning technology.

“I think it’s important that they hear conservative voices in what 21st century energy production is going to look like,” Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R-N.D.), who’s leading the House delegation, told us.

Democrats, unsurprisingly, plan to pitch more aggressive climate action largely centered around significantly reducing U.S. dependence on fossil fuels.

We’re following the issue as part of our platform, The Punch Up, which explores efforts to close the equity divide on and off Capitol Hill.

At least seven senators, including Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), and 15 House members — including nine Republicans — are expected to attend for part of the two-week summit, which ends Dec. 12.

A GOP climate shift: The comparatively large number of Republicans heading to COP28 is a notable change for a party that historically rejected engaging in climate discussions. Armstrong said the “political science is settled” and consumers are demanding action.

“We want to give consumers what they want,” Armstrong added. “We just don’t want to put U.S. companies at a global disadvantage.”

Democrats, of course, are side-eyeing the GOP mission given the party’s close fossil-fuel ties. “I have yet to see a sincere conservative solution to climate change,” Whitehouse said. “So I have zero confidence in Republican sincerity on climate change.”

Meanwhile, President Joe Biden skipped COP28’s opening, but Vice President Kamala Harris went last weekend following backlash from environmental groups over the president’s decision.

The priorities: House Energy and Commerce Committee Ranking Member Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) said he’s hoping more countries commit to cutting emissions, especially the more potent methane, as the United States has recently done.

Meanwhile, Republicans are preparing “to present an alternative to the Biden administration’s ambitious clean energy targets.”

Rep. August Pfluger (R-Texas), a member of the Energy and Commerce panel, isn’t attending but said he hopes Republicans push the “narrative” of the GOP energy bill HR 1.

The equity dilemma: The United States is the world’s second-largest emitter of greenhouse gasses after China, but there’s debate about whether it should subsidize the efforts of lower-emitting countries.

Pallone acknowledged it’s difficult to coax the United States and other developed countries to “spend significant resources” to help other nations reach their climate goals. “That’s always a tough one,” he added.

Republicans say countries should be empowered to make their own climate decisions with less U.S. interference.

“We cannot afford to pay for everything for the rest of the world,” said Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-Va.), calling for conservative solutions that include fossil fuels.

“I’m hoping over time, people realize there’s a climate crisis. But we need to do things that actually make sense; that don’t make it more expensive for people to provide electricity for their folks in Sub-Saharan Africa or India or in Central Asia,” Griffith added.

It’s not all head-butting though. “There’s lots of places we agree, and there’s lots of places we disagree,” Armstrong said. “Nuclear — obviously, if you want less carbon — nuclear energy is a huge part of this conversation.”

Lawmakers also agree on the need to reform the arduous permitting processes, Armstrong added.

A toothless convention?: The annual UN summit is often criticized as a pricey pageant with more talk and less action. Democrats have expressed frustration at the difficulty in enforcing the lofty, but voluntary, commitments set by attendants.

“A lot of it is BS and we need to fix that,” Whitehouse said, calling for increased transparency and accountability.

— Elvina Nawaguna

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