Today Sens. Jeanne Shaheen, Bob Menenedez, and Tom Carper introduced the International Climate Accountability Act with 43 other co-sponsors. The bill, S.1743, is the companion to the Climate Action Now Act, H.R. 9, which passed the House of Representatives last month.
These bills demonstrate how climate change itself is changing the politics of climate change. Driven by epic storms and wildfires, record heat, and blockbuster science reports on the deepening danger, Americans’ views on climate change have shifted sharply. As we wrote regarding H.R. 9, recent polls show unmistakably rising concern over the climate crisis across generational, geographic, and partisan lines.
The two bills use Congress’s power of the purse to push back on President Trump’s plan to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, denying him any money to spend on his plan to withdraw the day after the 2020 election, which is by coincidence the earliest date when a party may leave the international climate accord.
The bills also direct the President to develop and submit to Congress a national plan to make good on the central U.S. commitment under the Paris Agreement—to cut America’s emissions of heat-trapping pollution by 26-28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. And they direct him to report to Congress on how the administration will use the agreement’s strong transparency and accountability mechanisms—which Trump’s negotiators helped develop—to confirm that other countries are meeting their commitments.
Americans now understand that climate change is here and now and in our own backyards, no longer far in the future and far away. The human and financial costs are piling up. The number of extreme weather-related events costing more than $1 billion a year has sharply risen since 1980. More than $300 billion in damages in 2017 shattered the previous U.S. record, set in 2005. Damages in 2018, not fully totaled yet, were very likely higher still.
But the Republican leadership of the Senate is standing in the way. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has called Shaheen’s bill “political theater,” and shows no sign of willingness to bring it to a vote—in sharp contrast with his rush to vote on the Green New Deal resolution a short while ago.
The majority leader and GOP senators have started admitting that the climate is changing, but they are still unwilling to back limits on the carbon pollution that’s driving that change. McConnell can stand in the doorway for a little longer, but in the face of rising temperatures, climate disasters in their own states, and rising public support for action, it’s hard to see how this strategy of denial works for him and his colleagues much longer.