December 11, 2019

Time to Wake Up: No COP Out

As-prepared for delivery.

Mr./Mdm. President, I rise to again call this chamber to wake up to the threat of climate change – and to say about Paris, in chorus with millions of Americans, “we’re still in.”

And in truth, America is still in The Paris Agreement.  When you look at the states that are still in; when you look at the cities that are still in; when you look at the companies and universities that are still in; it’s the vast majority of the American economy.  Despite President Trump’s fossil fuel nonsense, we really are still in.

Last week, I traveled to Madrid with Speaker Pelosi and a delegation of House Committee Chairs and climate leaders for the U.N. Conference of the Parties, or COP, to support the Paris Agreement’s climate goals.  The mood in Spain was optimistic; it was an unexpectedly bright picture we saw.

The Trump administration, of course, has begun the process of withdrawing the United States from the Paris Climate Accord.  That is more than an abandonment of our American tradition of international leadership and adherence to higher ideals; it is abandonment of our own national security imperatives and economic wellbeing.  This demeans the nation that has, from John Winthrop to Ronald Reagan, been called a “city on a hill.”

Our military well understands the threat to our national security.  Back in 2013, Admiral Samuel Locklear, commander of United States forces in the Pacific, observed that upheaval related to climate change “is probably the most likely thing that is going to happen . . . that will cripple the security environment.”  He added, “You have the real potential here in the not-too-distant future of nations displaced by rising sea level. . . . If it goes bad, you could have hundreds of thousands or millions of people displaced and then security will start to crumble pretty quickly.”  Preparing for these risks was a centerpiece of a recent Indo Pac Command Senate briefing I attended at HQ in Hawaii.

To understand the threat to our economy, we need only ask our own government-backed mortgage institutions.  Freddie Mac predicts that rising sea levels will prompt a crash in coastal property values greater than the housing crash that caused the 2008 financial crisis. 

That warning is echoed by the biggest, most important financial institutions in the world, both in the United States and abroad.  The Bank of England, Bank of France, Bank of Canada, and European Central Bank are all warning of “systemic” economic risks from climate change.  That’s central banker-speak for something that poses a risk to the entire economy – perhaps from stranded fossil fuel assets when the market for fossil fuels dries up, and perhaps from to a coastal property value crash when flood risk becomes uninsurable and unmortgageable.

So the Trump administration leaving the Paris Climate Accord is a historically dumb and destructive move.  Particularly from a guy who one decade ago called climate change “scientifically irrefutable” and its consequences “catastrophic and irreversible.”

The Pelosi delegation included powerful House Chairmen, like Chairman Pallone, Chairman Grijalva, Chairman Johnson, and Chairman Castor and of course the most senior and influential Democrat in America, Speaker Pelosi.

Speaker Pelosi’s presence at COP resounded, not only because of her clout and standing, but because it also signaled the broad, true consensus of the United States of America in favor of climate action.  At the state level, at the city level, across the public, and in much of corporate America, we are still in.

Indeed, at the Madrid conference right now are representatives for thousands of American businesses; investors managing trillions of dollars; hundreds of American municipalities and counties; top American colleges and universities; dozens of American faith groups; America’s largest health care organizations; and 20 American states and tribes.  All told, it’s the bulk of the U.S. economy.

Americans still has to fight our way through a persistent blockade by the fossil fuel industry.  Don’t believe their happy talk about acting on climate—this notion that “they’re on it,” as their main trade group says on billboards popping up everywhere.  We in Congress know better, first-hand.  The statements from their lips do not match the expenditure of their funds, still dedicated to their political apparatus of denial and obstruction. 

Ultimately, however, we will prevail.  The America that the international community knows – the America of leadership, the America of progress, the America of confidence, the America of clean and green energy; that America will be back, and will prevail.

Our “commitment to take action on the climate crisis is iron clad,” said Speaker Pelosi in Madrid.  It is, and soon enough that commitment will topple the castle of fossil-fuel-funded denial and delay that surrounds Congress.

I yield the floor.