Casten discusses climate change after participating in U.N. conference

After participating in the United Nations climate conference in Madrid, Spain, U.S. Rep. Sean Casten, D-Downers Grove, told constituents at Barrington Village Hall that countries are working to get “more ambitious” when it comes to fighting climate change.

As a member of a Democratic congressional delegation led by U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Casten attended the opening of the 25th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the U.N. Convention on Climate Change, also called COP25.

A big point made during the conference, Casten said, was that countries have to “increase their ambition” on protecting the environment, even within the context of the Paris Climate Agreement.

All of the voluntary commitments made by countries in the Paris Agreement are not yet sufficient to get carbon dioxide down to a level that will stay under 1.5 degrees, which is one of the goals of the agreement, Casten said.

Now that the structure for the Paris Agreement is in place, he said, parties in it are starting to talk about how to get more ambitious in their plans.

“They knew this was going to come,” Casten said. “It’s just coming at a time when [the U.S.] is not going to be at the table.”

President Donald Trump told the U.N. in November that the U.S. is withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement. The withdrawal will take effect next year.

Answering a constituent’s question on whether this withdrawal can be reversed, Casten said it could be restored by an executive order. Casten, however, wants to see a more “robust” commitment by the U.S. government to stay in the agreement, which involves the legislative branch.

“Realistically, if you’re Germany, if you’re China, if you’re Poland, if you’re Sri Lanka, why should you believe that a commitment from the United States is a long-term commitment if it’s just an executive order that can be reversed?” he said. 

One idea floated at the conference Casten told constituents about was setting up global fund worth $100 billion a year that could help countries around the world be protected from the effects of climate change.

“We are past the point where we are locked in to some of the worst effects of climate change,” Casten said after the talk. “If we went to zero CO2 emissions tomorrow, globally, we still have an additional 2 feet of sea level rise that’s baked in and is coming.”

Although the U.S. could vote to pass a bill to protect its cities from these occurrences, Casten said, the question still remains about what to do with other countries that could also face significant problems because of sea level rise.

“What obligations do we have as a species to our fellow human beings, to protect them regardless of their citizenship?” he said.

What they are trying to do within the Conference of Parties, Casten said, is come up with a fund that will be distributed – under a formula to be determined – to those countries that have needs so they can do “what’s right for all.”

Casten said the hard part about this is calculating how much each country would pay into this fund, as well as determining how the money will be distributed and deployed once the fund is active.

“That’s a political conversation that can be resolved within the context of the [COP],” Casten said.

He added that at this conference, countries were given the ideas they needed to start thinking through, and at the next COP, they will start having more “binding discussions” on it.

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