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Led by Pelosi, Democrats try to convince the world that the U.S. is back on climate change

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Nov.9 said changing fuel usage of U.S. transportation and defense sectors can make a big difference in carbon emissions. (Video: Reuters)
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GLASGOW, Scotland — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and nearly two dozen other Democratic lawmakers traveled to the United Nations climate summit here with a message for the rest of the world: The United States is back in the international fight against climate change, and Congress will deliver on President Biden’s bold climate agenda.

Fresh off a successful vote on a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill late Friday, Pelosi on Tuesday led the delegation of House members to the global negotiations, known as COP26. The speaker said it was the largest group of members of Congress ever to attend a climate summit.

Pelosi stressed that while the infrastructure bill is a first step toward addressing global warming, House Democrats plan to pass another, roughly $2 trillion spending package — which contains a historic $555 billion investment in climate — next week.

“Led by our delegation, the United States Congress is showing the world true climate leadership,” she said. “We’re proud of our president. He was one of the first people in Congress, in 1986, to introduce legislation to address the climate crisis. He takes great pride in that he’s worked on it ever since.”

The nearly $2 trillion tax-and-spending bill that has yet to pass — called the Build Back Better Act, echoing Biden’s 2020 campaign slogan — represents the largest clean-energy investment in U.S. history. It includes a $555 billion package of tax credits, grants and other policies aimed at reducing the greenhouse gas emissions that are warming the Earth.

Pelosi spoke at a news conference inside the Scottish Event Campus, a cavernous conference venue next to the River Clyde, alongside five committee chairs. Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.), a Pelosi ally who chairs the Select Committee on Climate Crisis, sought to play down the drama surrounding the Build Back Better Act in the Senate, where centrist Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) has objected to several of its climate provisions.

“You all may have been following a little bit of the drama out of Washington, D.C.,” Castor said. “But it was just a few days ago that the House passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and took the first step towards passage of the Build Back Better Act. This is historic.”

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Castor added that the spending bill would help the nation meet Biden’s goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 50 to 52 percent by 2030 — in addition to helping the world meet the Paris climate agreement’s more ambitious target of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above preindustrial levels.

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) said the budget bill would also allow the United States to fulfill its commitment under the Global Methane Pledge to reduce emissions of the potent greenhouse gas by 30 percent by 2030. He declined to mention that Manchin has raised concern about the bill’s fee on emissions of methane, which warms the planet 80 times faster than carbon dioxide for the first 20 years after it’s released into the atmosphere.

Some youth activists who came to Glasgow expressed frustration as they’ve watched Democrats struggle to pass climate legislation while lawmakers work to appease Manchin and overcome intraparty divisions.

Vanessa Nakate, a 24-year-old climate activist from Uganda, said that while she was pleased to see Biden commit to increasing the U.S. contribution to a $100 billion annual fund that helps poor countries adapt to climate change, she is not holding her breath for Congress to appropriate the money.

“I was 13 years old when President Obama talked about the $100 billion climate finance. But it has not yet been delivered,” Nakate said. “So it is hard for me to believe that the money that has been committed will be delivered, and yet the previous promise is just a broken promise.”

Earlier Tuesday, five other House Democrats spoke on a separate panel at the U.N. climate conference, including liberal Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.), who was the subject of online vitriol Monday after Rep. Paul A. Gosar (R-Ariz.) shared an altered, animated video that showed him killing Ocasio-Cortez and swinging two swords at Biden.

Ocasio-Cortez responded when her plane landed in Glasgow, saying Gosar will probably “face no consequences” because House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) “cheers him on with excuses.” A Gosar staffer defended the video Monday, dismissing claims that it glorifies violence and saying, “Everyone needs to relax.”

On the panel, Ocasio-Cortez said that grass-roots climate activists have had a major influence in shaping Biden’s climate agenda. During the presidential campaign, Biden “invited grass-roots organizations to the table to inform his climate task force, to inform his presidential policy,” she said. “We have seen the successful translation of that grass-roots frame into federal policy.”

Ocasio-Cortez did not mention the Sunrise Movement, a youth-led climate organization, by name. But she appeared to be referring to the fact that Varshini Prakash, executive director of the group, served on an environmental task force that Biden formed with onetime rival Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) last year. The task force played a key role in making Biden’s climate proposals more ambitious during the campaign.

“Just two or three years ago, no one wanted to touch climate and environmental justice with a 100-foot pole,” Prakash said in an email. “Politicians aren’t ignoring us anymore, and it’s because we agitated, we organized, and we bird-dogged these politicians every place they were.”

“Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi must know this: If Democrats don’t deliver on the climate promises they ran and won on during the 2020 campaign cycle, they will fail our generation and risk the votes of young people in 2022 and beyond,” she said.

Former president Barack Obama delivered a similar message to the climate summit Monday about the power of youth climate activists — after about 100,000 students and others marched through the streets of Glasgow on Saturday to protest world leaders’ perceived inaction at the conference. Obama told young people to “stay angry” in the fight against global warming while voting more climate-conscious candidates into office.

Pelosi’s delegation to COP26 struck a sharp contrast to her delegation at the previous round of U.N. climate talks, in Madrid in 2019. At that time, Pelosi had to convince other nations that the United States was serious about cutting emissions despite the presidency of Donald Trump, who called climate change a “hoax” and rolled back a host of environmental regulations.

In addition to Pelosi’s Democratic delegation, a smaller group of six Republicans also attended the summit this year. Some of the GOP lawmakers came to Glasgow to take a shot at Democrats for what they perceived as an “alarmist” climate agenda.

Democrats “engage in this sort of alarmist narrative, which is inherently anti-science,” said Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Tex.). “It’s also anti-common sense and anti-engineering. So if your actual goal is to reduce carbon emissions, generally speaking, the way somebody like Obama — the way our American left — wants to engage in that is deeply foolish.”

Hannah Jewell, Casey Silvestri and Dan Zak contributed to this report.