WASHINGTON (AP) — Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin and a group of other Senate Democrats said Friday that they are going to continue to participate in global climate talks, even though President Donald Trump won't back the Paris Climate Agreement.
"We are here because it's our responsibility to be part of the global community," Cardin said in a conference call with reporters from Bonn, Germany, site of the annual United Nations Climate Change Conference. "We're here because it's in our national security interests to deal with climate change."
On the call with Cardin were Democratic Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Brian Schatz of Hawaii and Ed Markey of Massachusetts. No Republican senators made the trip.
"In my personal assessment, the death grip of the fossil fuel industry on the Republican Party precludes their participation in events like this without dire consequences to them," Whitehouse told reporters.
The Paris agreement, which sets goals for limiting global greenhouse gas emissions, was finalized in December 2015. The U.S. was one of 169 countries that ratified the agreement.
President Trump announced the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris accord in June. At the time, he said: "Not only does this deal subject our citizens to harsh economic restrictions, it fails to live up to our environmental ideals. As someone who cares deeply about the environment, which I do, I cannot in good conscience support a deal that punishes the United States..."
Despite Republican intractability on climate issues and Trump's determination to pull out the Paris accord, the United States cannot legally do so until November 2020 at the earliest.
"What the president did in my view has been very harmful," Cardin said. "So we are still in (the Paris deal), make no mistake about it."
According to the senators, there is no one from the Trump administration set to attend the U.N. conference until next week, when negotiations around various agreements related to the accord heat up. And that has left an opportunity that some senators are worried China is all too eager to take.
"Whenever America is not as aggressive as it should be, not as engaged as it should be, it leaves opportunities for other countries to step forward and fill that void," said Cardin. "We believe that China is one of those other countries that may very well step forward and fill that void."
The annual conference, called COP, or Conference of the Parties, is held to assess progress towards the goal of signees to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which negotiated the Paris accord as well as similar agreements that preceded it.
When asked by Capital News Service if the Democratic delegation was being taken seriously by foreign attendees to the conference despite their role as members of the opposition party back home, Cardin responded: "I think they (foreign governments) understand our political system perhaps better than we think they do, and they recognize that first of all, climate change should not be a partisan issue. And that they recognize that a lot of the progress that has been made historically has not been on a partisan line basis."
Cardin added that he's had conversations with Republican colleagues in the Senate and that they're more interested in what's happening in Bonn than they admit publicly.
"The president of the United States is a powerful person but he can't stop us from moving forward on clean energy," Schatz said.