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Alan F.
Democrat MN

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  • Paris Climate Change Agreement

    by Senator Al Franken

    Posted on 2015-12-16

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    FRANKEN. Madam President, I rise today to celebrate the successful climate negotiations that were just wrapped up in Paris.



    This past Saturday, 196 countries came together to reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions, taking a very important step in the fight against climate change. This historic agreement is a recognition that we cannot afford to ignore the negative impacts of climate change and that we must work together globally to put the planet on a safer path forward.

    The agreement does not simply take countries at their word, but it requires transparent measurement and verification to ensure that they live up to their promises. Crucially, the deal requires countries to revisit their emission reduction targets every 5 years. That way countries can factor in new technologies and new policies in order to keep global warming under 2 degrees Celsius.

    This truly historic deal has been nearly 25 years in the making. International climate efforts date back to 1992, when governments around the world met in Rio de Janeiro with the objective of stabilizing greenhouse gas concentrations. Nations have met every year since to further the goal. While some meetings have been more successful than others, most have been met with disappointment and lack of action. After all, climate change is a complex issue, and bringing about a consensus action for any international issue is no small feat. That is why this agreement is truly, truly impressive.

    Two weeks ago I traveled to Paris with nine of my colleagues. We met with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, with U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, and with our top U.S. climate change negotiator, Todd Stern. I congratulate all of them for their fine work.

    Part of the purpose of our trip was to demonstrate to the world that there is a strong coalition in the U.S. Congress that supports the President's efforts on climate change, a message we conveyed to other nations, including Bangladesh. It is a country that has contributed little to industrial air pollution, but it is one of the most vulnerable to the negative impacts of climate change. It is estimated that unless we act, rising sea level will inundate some 17 percent of Bangladesh, displacing about 18 million people in this low-lying nation. They will be uprooted and turned into climate refugees without a home.

    But, of course, climate change isn't something that will just impact Bangladesh and other low-lying nations. It is already impacting us right here at home.

    While we cannot attribute any single extreme weather event to climate change, we do know that climate change impacts the frequency, duration, and severity of extreme weather events. Just look at the damage caused by Superstorm Sandy. The storm surges caused by Sandy along the eastern seaboard were far more damaging because of climate-induced sea level rise. May I remind you that the damage caused by Sandy cost taxpayers $60 billion.

    We are also seeing climate impacts to our forests. When Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell testified before the Senate energy committee a few years ago, he told us that throughout the country we are seeing far longer fire seasons and that wildfires are also larger and more intense. I asked Chief Tidwell whether scientists at the Forest Service have concluded that climate change has been exacerbating the intensity, the size, and duration of wildfires in the wildfire season. Without hesitation, he said yes. As a result, the Forest Service is spending more and more of their budget fighting fires--now more than half of their entire budget.

    We are seeing more intense droughts. Unless we act, these droughts will have a major impact on food security around the world. That is why I recently penned an op-ed in the Minneapolis StarTribune with Dave MacLennan, the CEO of Cargill, the Nation's largest privately held corporation.

    As the CEO of a company focused on agriculture, Dave is concerned about what climate change is going to do to our food supply in a world that is expected to go from 7 billion to 9.5 billion inhabitants by midcentury. That is why Cargill called for a strong outcome at the global climate negotiations.

    So you can see that Cargill has a strong business case to make on why we have to deal with climate change. But, of course, that business case isn't just confined to the agriculture sector. Addressing climate change presents a tremendous opportunity to transform the energy sector.

    For the very first time just this last week, Beijing issued its most severe warning to alert citizens of intense smog and local air pollution levels. Officials ordered half of the city's private vehicles to stay off the road, halted all operation at outdoor construction sites, and advised schools to temporarily close their doors. Citizens were encouraged to limit outdoor activities and recommended to wear a mask when outside.

    China is choking on its own fumes from fossil fuels. As China and others recognize that they have to race toward clean energy, I want to make sure that our nation leads that race. I want to make sure that our startups are innovating tomorrow's solutions, that our companies are the ones that are developing and deploying clean energy technologies here and around the world. Again, I want to reiterate that. Addressing climate change head on would not only mitigate unprecedented damage to our economy but spur growth and innovation in a world that is hungry for advancements in clean energy.

    My State of Minnesota recognized this opportunity in 2007 when it established a renewable energy standard and an energy efficiency standard. These kinds of policies send a strong signal to the private sector to develop and deploy clean energy solutions, and major investors are catching on to the opportunities. Just this month, Bill Gates launched the Breakthrough Energy Coalition to develop transformative energy solutions. The Coalition of nearly 30 billionaires from 10 different countries will invest in early stage energy companies to help them bridge the gap between government-funded lab research and the marketplace. According to Gates, the ``primary goal with the Coalition is as much to accelerate progress on clean energy as it is to make a profit.'' To back up this statement, Gates alone plans to invest $1 billion in clean energy in the next 5 years.

    So you can see that the very serious threat of climate change presents a ``Sputnik moment'' for our Nation, an opportunity to rise to the challenge and defeat that threat. In response to Sputnik, we ended up not just winning the space race and sending a man to the Moon, but we did all sorts of great things for the American economy and for our society. We did it once, and we can do it again. By rising to the challenge of climate change, we will not just clean up our air but also drive innovation and create jobs--and not only in the clean energy sector--just as the space program created economic growth in so many economic sectors.

    The Obama administration deserves a lot of credit for its leadership on climate change. Our domestic commitment through the Clean Power Plan, which builds on the work of my State and others, has established a Federal plan for reducing emissions. This important policy has provided American innovators and businesses the confidence to take on new risks and to drive new technologies forward.

    [[Page S8698]] After dragging our feet for so many years, I am proud that the United States is acting domestically and leading internationally.

    But our job is not done. The agreement in Paris puts the planet on a safer trajectory than the one we have been on, but we have to remain vigilant and build upon that success. Internationally, we have to hold other nations accountable, ensure that they commit to stronger emission reduction targets over time, and make sure that those reductions are transparent and verifiable. Domestically, we have to build on the success of our cities and our States, and we have to work to make sure that the Clean Power Plan and other emissions reduction policies are effective. As a member of the Senate energy committee, I intend to do just that.

    Two years ago, my first grandchild was born, and I am expecting my second grandchild in January. God willing, they will live through this century and into the next. I want them to know that when we had the opportunity to put Earth on a safer path, we seized the moment.

    So let's celebrate this agreement because it is an important milestone, and then let's build on it to make the planet a safer and more habitable place for our grandchildren and their children.

    I yield the floor.

    I suggest the absence of a quorum.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. The clerk will call the roll.

    The senior assistant legislative clerk proceeded to call the roll.

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