The House Science, Space, & Technology Committee held a hearing on Thursday to discuss the latest climate change news and the next steps in averting further global warming.
Much of the 3-hour hearing focused on the latest United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report and what actions the country needed to take to mitigate damage and adapt to the globe’s new warming reality.
“Global emissions must peak within the next three years to ensure we stay below 1.5 degrees Celsius of global warming in the next century,” said Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson citing the report. “But we almost must move swiftly to adapt to our climate future alongside our efforts to cut carbon emissions.”
Johnson, who chairs the committee, said she attended the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference where staying below 1.5 was a major recurring theme. She said climate change has already permanently altered the life of most Americans, through flooding, drought or other extreme weather.
“There are many climate impacts that are already baked in and will occur regardless of how quickly we cut emissions,” Johnson said. “This means we must move forward with robust climate adaptation approaches alongside emissions mitigation.”
Rep. Frank Lucas of Oklahoma, the ranking Republican member in the committee, said supporting breakthrough energy technologies was the most significant action the committee could take.
“Investing in technological development through R&D is what I see as the carrot approach to climate change,” Lucas said, pointing to energy sources like wind, solar, natural gas and “clean coal” (carbon capture and storage).
“The flipside of this is the stick approach, that’s what we’ve seen in Europe with mandates and strict limits on certain kinds of energy,” Lucas said. “The result of the stick approach is a cautionary tale. Prices have gone up, emission reductions haven’t matched ours, and now with Russia’s war against Ukraine, Europe is facing energy shortages.”
Summarizing the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, Ko Barrett, the NOAA senior advisor for climate and vice chair of the IPCC, said every fraction of a degree of warming matters and will impact the most marginalized and impoverished communities the most.
“There are options available now in all sectors that can more than half greenhouse gas emissions by 2030,” Barrett said.
“We already have many of the tools we need to address climate change,” Barrett continued. “We just need to deploy them rapidly and across all walks of life.”
Rep. Jamaal Bowman, a democratic socialist from New York, said global investment in climate action is six times lower than what is needed by 2030 according to the latest ICCP report. He said the same report noted that public and private finance for fossil fuels is still larger than for climate action.
Directing his question Barrett, Bowman asked, “why aren’t we mobilizing our society on a war-time footing to deploy renewable energy and create millions of good union jobs starting in marginalized communities? Why are we risking the future of humanity to protect the fossil fuel industry?”
Barrett said the U.S. was not standing still on the issue, and noted that if the U.S. invested now sooner than later, it could avoid damages. “It’s true, that if you look at the commitments that countries have made to developing counties, we have not met those commitments,” Barrett added.
Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava also testified at the hearing and said the county was the canary in the coal mine for climate change. The county is expecting between 21 to 54 inches of sea level rise in the next 50 year which will not recede like other types of flooding, Cava said.
“Because we live at sea level we must prepare for coastal property damage, because our water supply comes from our underground aquifer we must address saltwater intrusion, and because of the intersectional challenge of poverty we are exposed to greater health risks,” Cava said.
“Mitigation is no longer enough and we must implement bold adaptation measures,” Cava said, detailing the county’s climate action strategy to reach netzero carbon emissions, including revamping public transport and planting more trees.
Rep. Lizzie Fletcher of Houston asked witnesses about their opinion on which federal climate programs and practices are working and not working.
Barrett said there was a tremendous amount of work on the ground that needed to be linked with extensive federal resources. Mayor Cava said federal dollars needed to be more flexible, and preferably not involve having to go through the state to receive those federal dollars.
“Flexible funding, like what happened with COVID was extremely valuable to us at the local level,” Cava said of federal recovery dollars that let local communities come up with innovative solutions.