Senate Democrats Expect Corporate Pledges, New Momentum From UN Climate Summit

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By Anthony Adragna

Sept. 19 — Significant corporate commitments toward addressing climate change and momentum toward a 2015 international agreement in Paris should be expected from a United Nations leader's summit Sept. 23, Democratic senators told Bloomberg BNA.

The senators, in interviews during the week of Sept. 15, also expressed concern that certain foreign leaders, such as those of India and China, would not attend the long-planned leader's summit, but said other events, like the “People's Climate March,” show public opinion on the issue had begun to shift.

“Given the urgency and the fact that there are going to be some demonstrations, some marches—people are waking up to it—I think that'll give some push to the nations to step up to the plate and make their pledges,” Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, told Bloomberg BNA. “What's making me very excited, and I think we'll see this in New York, is how many big businesses are now embracing this.”

More than 120 world leaders, along with leaders in the business and finance sectors, plan to attend the one-day meeting at the United Nations headquarters in New York City. It will not be a negotiating session, but participants are expected to announce actions to address climate change in hopes of building support and momentum for an ambitious 2015 climate deal.

While some international leaders will not participate, President Barack Obama, who has long been expected to attend, will travel to New York for Tuesday's meeting and will “emphasize the ambitious actions” that he has launched under his climate action plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions from power plants and other sources, Susan Rice, the president's national security adviser, told reporters Sept. 19.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the absence of top leaders from China and India will not prevent progress from being made at the summit. “I don't anticipate the fact that the heads of state of those two countries not being there will have any impact on our ability to advance the ball on this priority,” he told reporters Sept. 19.

‘Momentum Builder.'

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) said trusted brands and companies speaking about the need for action on climate change would be a major theme coming from the summit and said it could help further convince the general public of the need for action.

“We are seeing some really exciting engagement from the public on climate change,” Whitehouse told Bloomberg BNA in an interview. “I think the summit is a good chance to tee up for Paris later on. I think we're going to see some very significant corporate pledges coming out of this. I think it's a momentum builder.”

Other senators said momentum toward action has been building swiftly and expressed hope that the unification of so many interested parties could further spur the world toward action.

“What you're going to see is a whole lot of people coming together to stress the severity of the problem, to express outrage,” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) told Bloomberg BNA. “I think what you're seeing is more and more people—especially young people—understand that we are already seeing significant damage in the United States and around the world because of climate change and we have got to address it.”

Senators Back March

One of the sources of momentum noted by the senators comes from the Sept. 21 “People's Climate March” in New York, which Whitehouse is expected to attend. In a Sept. 19 letter, 26 senators endorsed the climate march and called for immediate action to address climate change ahead of the summit.

“Although we cannot all be with you, we want you to know that your participation sends a strong signal to the U.S. Congress and leaders around the globe about the need for action,” the letter to march organizers states. “Failing to reduce harmful carbon pollution, which 97% of scientists agree is leading to dangerous climate change, threatens the health and economic well-being of our country and those around the world.”

Spearheaded by Boxer and Whitehouse, the letter was also signed by Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.), members of the Senate Democratic leadership, and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), president pro tempore of the Senate. No Republicans signed the letter.

More than a dozen members of the House Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition also released statements in support of the summit and march.

Concern Over China, India

Boxer, Sanders, Whitehouse and Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) expressed concern that President Xi Jinping of China and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi do not plan to attend the conference but believed other leaders would still build momentum for a 2015 deal.

“At the end of the day, we need the entire global economy working on this,” Sanders told Bloomberg BNA.

The World Bank reports China is the world's top greenhouse-gas emitter, and India is third, after the United States. The two nations account for nearly a third of all carbon emissions and continue to expand their carbon footprints amid continued industrialization. The active participation of both nations is seen as crucial for a successful agreement in 2015.

Bob Orr, the top climate official reporting to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, previously downplayed the fact both leaders would not attend because both nations planned to send top finance and environment ministers instead.

Republicans Not Impressed

Republican senators were unimpressed by the climate gathering and predicted it would not produce any meaningful progress toward a global agreement. Many of those senators warn that an international climate treaty would never win Senate ratification and condemn any effort by Obama to produce an agreement that would not require Senate approval.

“They're going to try to make everyone believe that the United States of America is going to take some kind of step against global warming, against climate change, or whatever they rename it next time, and it's not going to happen,” Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), who does not believe in climate change, told Bloomberg BNA.

Any agreement to address climate change would harm the American economy and competitiveness against developing nations such as India and China, Inhofe warned.

With assistance from Dean Scott in Washington

To contact the reporter on this story: Anthony Adragna in Washington at aadragna@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com

The Sept. 19 letter from 26 senators ahead of the summit is available at http://1.usa.gov/1mmhy87.