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Colorado politicians, past and present, reflect on Paris climate agreement

Nations agree to cut emissions of greenhouse gas

WASHINGTON – Nearly every country around the world has agreed to lower their greenhouse gas emissions as part of an historic climate change agreement worked out in Paris.

The deal, which was reached by representatives from 195 countries during the two-week United Nations Climate Change Conference that ended Dec. 12, will require action from every participating county – including, for the first time, India and China. It requires countries to take measured steps to keep temperature increases to less than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), with the goal of limiting the global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Former Colorado Sen. Timothy Wirth, known for organizing the 1988 Hansen hearing that helped propel the issue of climate change to national attention, said the Paris agreement marks a turning point in the international community’s commitment to fighting global warming.

“The fact that every country has agreed and nobody is denying the science means that this agreement has a very important science base, which did not occur before, with a real strong consensus around the science,” Wirth said.

But some Republican lawmakers in the House and Senate have voiced opposition to the Paris agreement, saying the U.S. agreed to the deal without congressional backing and that the terms of the agreement do not hold countries to enforceable standards.

Although each of the 195 countries that ratified the agreement must set their own standards for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, there is no universally accepted protocol for enforcing the accord.

Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, said the Paris agreement would have little realistic impact on limiting some of the world’s biggest polluters and was instead a distraction from more pressing foreign policy issues.

“Once again, the president is attempting to give away the barn by forcing Americans to shoulder the cost for a climate deal that does nothing tangible to limit the world’s biggest polluters like China, India and Mexico,” Tipton said. “The American people would be far better served by an administration that is focused on addressing the national security threats posed by ISIS instead of finding new ways to further punish responsible American energy producers and drive up energy costs on American families.”

Still, climate change activists view the agreement as a major step toward meaningful action. Wirth, who also led the U.S. negotiating team at the 1992 climate change conference that adopted the Kyoto Protocol, said that international efforts to combat climate change should convince any remaining global warming detractors about the issue.

“There are still a number of people, in the Senate for example, who basically think that the world is flat,” Wirth said. “It can be astonishing that they still question this. There are real issues for what we do about it, but I think to say that this isn’t an issue, as some of them do, is irresponsible and certainly delinquent when you think of their responsibilities to their children and grandchildren.”

Wirth said that droughts and warmer temperatures caused by climate change are leading to an increase in bark beetle infestations, resulting in a greater number of dead trees that provide more kindling for longer and stronger wildfire seasons.

Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., echoed Wirth’s sentiment, saying climate change was having a direct impact on Colorado.

“Colorado is already experiencing the negative effects of a changing climate,” Bennet said. “Increasingly severe wildfires, prolonged drought that imperils our $40 billion agriculture industry, and shortened winters – and ski seasons – all demand action.”

Although the Paris agreement is the first step of a multinational plan to reduce carbon emissions, Bennet said more immediate steps were needed within the U.S. to combat climate change. He cited the Carbon Capture Improvement Act, which he introduced last month along with Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, as one such step that would enhance domestic efforts to reduce carbon emissions.

“Not only would the bill help reduce emissions at power plants and industrial facilities, but also it would decrease the need to drill new oil wells and support Colorado’s diverse energy industry,” Bennet said.

egraham@durangoherald.com. Edward Graham is a student at American University in Washington, D.C., and an intern for The Durango Herald.

This story has been changed to clarify information about the worldwide goal of limiting temperature increases to less than 2 degrees Celsius, or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit.

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