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  Geotimes -June 2007 - Political Comment

Fire and Ice on Capitol Hill
Allyson K. Anderson

On June 6 through 8, 2007, the Group of Eight (G8) leaders will meet for their annual summit in Germany to focus on globalization. Their gathering in Washington, D.C., this past February was certainly in a colder climate but on a topic just as hot. You might say that Valentine’s Day brought both fire and ice to Capitol Hill this year. The ice came in the form of a storm that arrived on the eve of the annual holiday for sweethearts. Schools canceled classes and government offices opened late. The scene on Washington D.C.’s city streets had many slipping and sliding their way to work. In contrast, global policymakers were fired up, poised and ready for discussion at the GLOBE International G8 + 5 Climate Change Dialogue workshop held in the Senate Russell Office Building on Capitol Hill. The two-day summit gathered legislators from around the world to discuss topics related to greenhouse gas emissions, global warming and cap-and-trade programs.

Climate change and its impacts are being discussed with much fervor in the district these days. Nearly every congressional office has taken up the charge. Thus, to learn that such a historic summit would take place in our nation’s capital is not surprising. Global Legislators Organisation for a Balanced Environment (GLOBE) International, the workshop’s organizer, was founded in 1989 as an inter-parliamentary consultative group between the U.S. Congress and the European Parliament to respond to urgent environmental challenges. GLOBE brought together prominent policymakers from the G8 countries, developing nations, stakeholders in private industry and members of Congress to discuss the challenges.

Staff of the congressional speakers were also invited. As I entered the room, I was struck by the somberness of the occasion, as legislators, business people and leaders from around the world listened with rapt attention to those addressing the group. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) had just stood up to talk about the need for aggressive climate change policy in the form of cap-and-trade legislation. He opened his remarks by stating: “The debate is over my friends,” referring to whether climate change is occurring or not. He went on to say that climate change is a national security issue and that we should seriously consider ensuring our energy supply by turning to alternative energy solutions, including nuclear energy. Other senators and distinguished guests, such as the author of much publicized “Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change,” Nicholas Stern, Virgin Group Founder and Chairman Richard Branson, World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz and others echoed McCain’s sentiments as the forum progressed.

A formal statement was released following the conclusion of the summit: “With the release of the report of…the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the Stern Review, we understand better than ever before the science and economics of climate change. The report from the IPCC, published on February 2, 2007, concludes that it is more than 90 percent certain that human activities since 1750 have warmed the planet. In our view, the evidence that man is changing the climate is now beyond doubt. It is also now clear that the cost of inaction will be greater than the cost of action. There is a compelling case for urgent action to reduce emissions as the only sure way to ensure sustainable growth for all economies. Each year of delay in action to control emissions increases the risk of impacts that will require steeper reductions in the future, at greater economic cost and social disruption. These impacts are likely to be exacerbated by ‘positive feedback’ mechanisms as our climate warms. Action on climate change needs to take account of the differing circumstances of developed, developing and poor economies, recognizing the need for economic growth and access to energy to alleviate poverty. But we must be clear that climate change is a global issue and there is an obligation on us all to take action, in line with our capabilities and historic actions.”

Upon conclusion of the forum and release of the summary document, Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) remarked, “For too long, the United States has not been meaningfully engaged in finding solutions to global warming. Now that the debate over the science of climate change is over, and now that we better understand the economic consequences of inaction, this new Congress will lead the way toward finding solutions. I urge the Administration and the G8 + 5 leaders meeting in Germany this June to read the Consensus Statement that this Forum has produced and to work in earnest to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions.” The complete forum statement is available at the event Web site (

To see such widespread consensus concerning climate change is encouraging. For two days, international and national politics were set aside to discuss perhaps the biggest global concern in the history of civilization. I left the summit feeling energized that world leaders had gained consensus on the topics of environmental awareness, sustainable development and energy security. This Valentine’s Day brought more than the usual cliché holiday greetings and gifts; it brought me a renewed sense of hope for our nation’s and children’s futures.

Anderson is the 2006-2007 William L. Fisher American Geological Institute Congressional Fellow and is working for the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.


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