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A Republican in Glasgow? Conservative Climate Caucus founder Rep. John Curtis looks to bring GOP up to speed

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GLASGOW, Scotland — Given that former President Barack Obama entered the U.S. into the Paris climate accord only to have his successor, Donald Trump, reverse course and pull out of the agreement, and that President Biden's ambitious climate proposals have received no outward GOP support, it can be tempting to think that no Republican lawmaker is concerned about climate change.

But Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, bristles at that perception. The founder of the Conservative Climate Caucus, which has over 60 members, Curtis is attending the conference known as COP26 along with a small delegation of other Republicans. And unlike 2015's Paris climate summit, when Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., was the sole attendee from his party — and who came ready to dispute that climate change was a problem that needed solving — Curtis is upfront about the urgency of lowering greenhouse gas emissions.

YAHOO NEWS: You’re the chairman of the Conservative Climate Caucus, a group of Republicans who seek to, as you’ve put it, “lower greenhouse gas emissions while enhancing economic prosperity.” On the surface, that sounds similar to the goals of the Green New Deal. How is what you’re advocating different?

REP. JOHN CURTIS: The atmosphere doesn’t care what country greenhouse gas emissions originated from. The Green New Deal focuses on U.S. emissions, and while that is important, it is soon to be [responsible for] only 10 percent of global emissions. If the U.S. hit zero emissions tomorrow, it wouldn’t matter as long as the rest of the world keeps increasing their emissions.

We should be proud that the U.S. has led the world in reducing emissions and investing in clean technologies, all while growing our economy, reducing energy costs and becoming more energy-independent. We should double down on the innovation-focused approach that unleashes entrepreneurs that will develop exportable and affordable solutions, not a top-down approach dictated by government, which is unfortunately what we are seeing with policies from some Democrats in reconciliation.

Overly burdensome regulations on fossil fuels don’t reduce demand for fossil fuels — they just make them more expensive to produce in the United States, effectively subsidizing foreign fossil fuels with higher emissions. We should reduce emissions, not affordable energy choices.

Rep. John Curtis.
Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The Republican Party has been way behind when it comes to accepting the reality of climate change. Former President Donald Trump, for instance, seems to still believe global warming is a hoax manufactured by the Chinese government to hobble the U.S. economy. What convinced you otherwise?

I’ll give you that we haven’t been good at talking about what we do like as climate solutions, but I believe Republicans do care deeply about our environment and want to be at the table to find solutions. With this caucus and the Energy, Climate, and Conservation task force set up by [House GOP] Leader [Kevin] McCarthy and led by Rep. Garret Graves, it is clear Republicans are excited and ready to engage on reducing global greenhouse gas emissions. Additionally, the Republican ranking members of all committees of jurisdiction over climate have put forward policies to address climate change that deserve consideration. I’ll also point out that every large piece of climate legislation, such as the Energy Act of 2020, were bipartisan efforts.

I think the rhetoric and “culture of shaming” surrounding climate has become so extreme, it makes individuals not want to engage at all at times. It often feels with some individuals that accepting anything short of the Green New Deal is never enough. We need to start taking incremental steps that have a long and instant impact and stop applauding unrealistic policies. We need results, not rhetoric.

On a personal note, I was a Boy Scout growing up, and I was blessed with a scoutmaster who loved the outdoors. He was a mountain man. And when I was 13 years old, they strapped a 40-pound pack on a bunch of 13-year-old kids [and] led us up the highest peak in Utah. It's called Kings Peak.

We did 100 miles in seven days, if you can imagine, as a 13-year-old. I was up on that top of Kings Peak, and I just remember looking out and seeing, as far as the human eye could see, no influence from man. And this would have been back in the ’70s, when you didn't even see other hikers up there. And just that profound sense of beauty and respect for God's creation. I think it's still within me — this deep desire to leave this Earth better than we found it. And I actually think all conservatives, Republicans, have those same feelings — maybe some stronger than others.

You and some of your colleagues are attending the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland. What sort of final agreement are you hoping we’ll see?

The U.S. is leading on emission reductions. Global emissions matter, and the U.S. is one of the most efficient producers in the world. We support an approach that results in reducing global emissions while ensuring world energy needs are met. Any international agreement needs to hold China and Russia accountable and requires verifiable benchmarks.

The U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is warning that much more ambitious emissions targets are needed in order to keep global temperature rise from exceeding 1.5 degrees Celsius over preindustrial levels. Should the U.S. be prepared to lead with new commitments in terms of reaching net-zero emissions?

Our ambition is to move as fast as is realistically, technologically and economically practical and results in a global reduction in emissions with increased competitiveness for the U.S. Any plan should be fully transparent, verifiable and vetted with Congress and the American people.

I’d like to keep reiterating this is a world problem. Even if the U.S. hit zero emissions today, we would still experience climate impacts because of the rest of the world. Additionally, if the world hit zero emissions today, we would still see climate impacts due to previous warming. We need to be looking at adaptation and mitigation because of those impacts, which, as the science clearly shows, are inevitable under any warming situation. Republicans want all options and hands on deck to solve this problem.

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