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Menendez Delivers Floor Speech on COP24 Climate Change Conference Negotiations

“It is completely absurd to assume that the U.S., by withdrawing from the Paris Agreement, is somehow immune to the global economic implications of climate change.”

WASHINGTON  – Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today delivered a speech on the Senate Floor on the ongoing negotiations at COP 24 – the 2018 United Nations Climate Change Conference – where parties are negotiating the implementation of the Paris Agreement. The Senator criticized the Trump administration for its lack of leadership on climate diplomacy, its persistent climate change denialism and its refusal to engage with the international community on this issue.

In calling for the President to reconsider his calamitous decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement, Menendez described how New Jersey, a leader in the renewable energy sector, is already doing its part as a national leader for clean energy jobs and climate change resilience. 


Below are his remarks as delivered:


“Mr. President, I rise today to discuss the negotiations taking place in Katowice, Poland to finalize the rulebook on implementing the Paris Climate Change Agreement. There is an immediate urgency for global action to reduce greenhouse gas pollution as emissions continue to increase. The longer it takes for us to fully accept and acknowledge the problem, the more aggressive the world will have to be to avoid the worst effects of climate change from becoming a reality.

For decades, the science has yielded increasing causes for concern. Today, the connection between manmade greenhouse gas emissions -- primarily fossil fuel combustion--and climate change is undeniable.

Three major reports on the growing climate crisis have been published in the last 30 days alone.

That includes reports from the world’s top climate scientists on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the UN Environment Programme.  That includes the National Climate Assessment, which was assembled by 13 federal agencies and 300 government experts. Our Federal agencies, our government experts.

What the scientists are telling us is that robust and immediate action is necessary to prevent catastrophic changes in the Earth’s climate. Changes that have already begun to affect every single American.

There’s a tendency to dismiss scientific reports as abstract, as hard to understand. The President seems to simply not believe them.  So let me speak plainly—the consequences of climate change are anything but abstract. 

Regional food and water shortages. Inundation of island nations and coastal communities that are home to billions of people around the world. Mass migration and refugee crises.

Our own National Climate Assessment makes clear that the United States--for all of our wealth and good fortune--is far from immune from the effects of climate change. If we fail to confront this challenge, the U.S. will experience effects that will cost American lives and billions in losses to our national economy.

While we shouldn’t point to any single event as evidence, the changes in trends depicting climate change’s harsh reality are undeniable.

It is a fact that the average global temperature on Earth has increased by about 0.8° Celsius (1.4° Fahrenheit) since 1880 and two-thirds of the warming has occurred since 1975.

It is a fact that the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events in many regions of the U.S. are increasing, including conditions that heighten wildfire risks.

It is a fact that sea level has been rising over the past century, and the rate has increased in recent decades, wherein 2017, global mean sea level was three inches above the 1993 average—the highest annual average in the satellite record.

None of these facts are new. None of these facts are deniable. The science predicted these climate change effects twenty, even thirty, years ago. To echo a common sentiment among climate change leaders on the urgency of the situation, who said, ‘We are the first generations to experience the effects of climate change, and the last that can act to prevent the worst.’

This urgency is fueling the negotiations in Poland this week.

Deliberations on the various elements of these rules began shortly after the Paris Agreement’s entry into force in November 2016, and the Agreement requires the rules be completed this year, making the COP in Katowice the most consequential Conference of Parties since COP21 in Paris.

The Paris Agreement establishes firm, albeit non-binding, global emissions reduction goals; reductions sufficient to prevent a two-degree-Celsius increase in global average temperatures. The Paris Agreement also clearly outlined robust and transparent reporting, so that parties can hold each other accountable via diplomatic engagement as opposed to binding legal punishment.

Of course, success comes down to execution. That is what makes the development of the implementation rulebook so consequential, and President Trump’s decision to abandon the Paris Agreement so antithetical to our own interests.

The current administration’s wholesale rejection of meaningful engagement with the global community is disturbingly naïve and is bound to result in repeating past mistakes and detrimental outcomes. China is emboldened by President Trump’s plan to abandon the Paris Agreement. China effectively slowed progress at COP23 and will continue its efforts.

In the leadership vacuum President Trump has created, China is stepping in to write the rules.  It is completely absurd to assume that the U.S., by withdrawing from the Paris Agreement, is somehow immune to the global economic implications of climate change.

The President couched his decision to abdicate American leadership regarding the Paris Agreement as putting ‘America First’ in a June 2017 announcement riddled with inaccurate characterizations of the Paris Agreement and ‘alternative facts’ on climate change.

There is no truthful, factual, or reality-based argument to justify how allowing every country in the world, except the United States, to build the clean energy economy of the future and confront our most pressing global challenge puts America First.

Continued U.S. leadership and climate diplomacy can only yield economic benefits for United States workers. More than 900 U.S. businesses support keeping the United States in the Paris Agreement, including more than 20 Fortune 500 companies. Acting to prevent the worst effects of climate change holds tremendous economic and job growth opportunities for New Jersey and our Nation.

I am proud to say that New Jersey is a national leader in deploying clean energy technologies, creating clean energy jobs, and planning and investing in climate change resilience. New Jersey is home to 417 solar energy manufacturing and installation companies employing more than 7,000 workers.

New Jersey is also competing hard to become the first mid-Atlantic state to produce offshore wind energy, supported by the recent enactment of legislation establishing a 3,500 megawatt production goal for offshore wind energy.

New Jersey has also recently increased its renewable energy standard to 50% by 2030 and set a new state carbon emissions reduction goal of 80% by 2050.

New Jersey’s leadership among the states working to combat climate change is rooted in our vulnerability to the effects of climate change. The fact is, if we continue on our current emissions trajectory the world could see global average temperature increase by 3 degrees Celsius. This would devastate New Jersey, risking $800 billion in coastal property value, along with the health, security, and livelihoods of millions of our residents.

The potential losses from sea level rise, and increased intensity and frequency of extreme weather associated with climate change would cost my state’s economy billions in economic losses.

Just yesterday, the Star Ledger - a statewide paper -published a column by Robert Kopp, the director of the Rutgers Institute of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences, highlighting many of these consequences, as outlined by the recent National Climate Assessment. 

Our winters have been warming faster than our summers.  Pests like the pine beetle and ash borer are no longer kept in check by winter freezes.  Perhaps even more alarmingly we’ve seen our crops begin to bud earlier and earlier, only to see them decimated by cold snaps later in the season.  In the Garden State, famous for our tomatoes, cranberry bogs, blueberries, and other specialty crops, that’s a big deal.

As temperatures rise, we also expect to see a surge in heat-related deaths and illnesses due to allergies and asthma, while disease carrying bugs like mosquitos and ticks thrive in increased seasonal moisture.

Our fisheries—the lifeblood of so many of our coastal communities—have already begun to see how changing water temperatures are changing fish migrations, making it harder for us to manage historic fisheries and harder for our fishermen to earn a living.

And of course, perhaps the clearest threat to New Jersey from climate change comes in the form of coastal flooding from sea level rise and extreme weather events.  We saw it with Superstorm Sandy, and we understand the devastating consequences it can have for our families, our communities, and our infrastructure.

There is no convincing me that ignoring climate change and walking away from the world’s only mechanism for holding countries like India, China, and Russia accountable for their emissions puts New Jersey First.

The Trump Administration’s failure to recognize this potential, and its refusal to recognize the growing market demand for clean energy is a stunning example of transactional relationship this President has with the fossil fuel industry. He is putting wealthy, politically connected, corporations ahead of the best interests of the American people.

Proof of the Administration’s political favoritism for fossil fuels is exemplified by the only U.S. government sponsored event at COP24 in Poland titled: ‘The Future of Coal’.

Never mind how insulting and tone deaf it is to sponsor an event to promote dirty, coal-powered energy at a climate change conference, while countries like the Marshall Islands, Maldives, Mongolia, and Mozambique--that face existential crises from climate change-- look on.  Even more than that, this public forum flaunts the administration’s wholesale sellout to the industries the government is tasked with regulating.

It also shows this administration’s contempt for the U.S.’s booming renewable energy sector, which according to Trump’s own Department of Energy, employs more Americans than the U.S. fossil fuel industries, by a five-to-one ratio. All told, nearly 1 million Americans work in the energy efficiency, solar, wind, and alternative vehicles sectors. That equals nearly 5 times the number of workers employed in the fossil fuel electric industry, which includes coal, gas, and oil workers.

As Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, I believe climate diplomacy must be a priority for U.S. foreign policy. Climate change poses an imminent and long-term threat--not just to U.S. national security, but also to the long-term prosperity of this country and of our world. Addressing the crisis requires collective action and cooperation by local and national representatives, small and large businesses, and every one of us.

If the U.S. is to maintain our status as the world’s super power, it is in our best interest to lead the global cooperative effort to address the serious challenges posed by climate change, and to promote stability and resilience by helping developing countries reduce their vulnerability to the effects of climate change.

If we stand alone on the sidelines as these changes in international economics take shape we will ultimately be the loser. I urge my colleagues to join me in calling on the administration to continue advancing U.S. climate diplomacy and reconsider the decision to withdraw. It is essential to U.S. national security interests—as defined by our own Department of Defense—and growing U.S. economic opportunity.”