COP26 — the 26th iteration of the United Nations’ annual climate conference — is currently underway in Glasgow, Scotland. This weekend, I’m attending as part of a bipartisan congressional delegation.
I’m participating as an Alaskan, the senior senator for a warming state, and one of only a few Republicans. I’m here because I recognize that climate change is real, we need to act, and we need to work together — across the aisle and with the rest of the world — to find reasonable ways to reduce emissions without harming our economy.
Alaskans are all too familiar with climate change as we can see and feel the impacts around us. Fishermen have seen the stocks their families have fished for decades decline in overall abundance and average size, or shift away from traditional grounds in search of colder waters. In many rural communities, river and coastal erosion and permafrost thaw threaten schools, homes and critical infrastructure. Around the state, retreating sea ice and changing wildlife migration patterns have disrupted Alaska Natives’ ability to harvest for subsistence.
While Alaska is feeling the effects of climate change, getting the policy response right is important. More than most states, we stand to be harmed if efforts to reshape the global energy system are poorly designed. Our economy — which depends on jobs and revenues from the oil industry — cannot be rebuilt overnight, nor should it have to be. Our communities — which already face very high energy costs — must be factored into major decisions that determine the availability and cost of critical resources.
In light of this, my involvement at COP26 is as both an observer and an advocate for our state.
The COP negotiations will provide a firsthand glimpse of what the Biden administration is pledging at home and abroad. I will look closely at any commitments the United States makes to ensure they reflect our interests. For example, are threatened Alaska communities being taken care of before we commit to international assistance for the same purpose? I will also be reviewing other nations’ commitments and strategies — especially those from major emitters like China.
At the same time, I will be educating delegates about Alaska. We know how and why our state is different from the rest of the country and the world. Those who are not from here, on the other hand, are not as familiar with our economy, rich Indigenous history and traditions, dependence on the ocean for food and jobs, and care for the land.
Being in Glasgow allows me to share our story with global political and corporate leaders. It also allows me to highlight our commitment to innovation, which Alaskans engage daily to proactively reduce our emissions. Communities like Cordova already lead in microgrid solutions utilizing renewable energy and battery storage, and we hope to build on that for other Alaskan communities through the provisions in our bipartisan infrastructure bill.
To be clear, I am not traveling to Glasgow to endorse the United Nations process or any of its products. Nor am I going to advocate for President Joe Biden’s agenda. I do not support the way he has pursued his climate priorities through unilateral executive actions, regulations, and a partisan budget reconciliation process in Congress. I especially oppose how his administration is targeting Alaska in an attempt to limit domestic resource development — imposing supply side restrictions that are inflicting real and needless damage, while also encouraging other nations to ramp up production.
I may be one of only a few Republicans at this conference, and my decision to attend may be a surprise to some. Ultimately, however, I believe it is better to be present and engaged — even with those with whom I may fundamentally disagree — than not. Climate change is an issue where greater Republican involvement will be a good thing, starting in Glasgow and extending to the domestic policy debates that follow.
A final thought: I didn’t need to attend COP26 to realize the world is largely past the point of deciding whether to act on climate change. It is now a matter of what most countries will do, how they will do it, and, in our case, how Alaska can lead. Throughout, for the sake of our people, our economy, and the environment, it will be far better for our state to have a seat at the table.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a Republican, is Alaska’s senior U.S. senator.
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