The conspicuous absence of top White House officials from the international climate conference underway in Madrid is being reported around the world and drew pointed reactions this week from conference leaders who view climate change as a global emergency.
Pedro Sánchez, acting prime minister of Spain, which is hosting the UN’s COP25 climate conference, called climate-science deniers “fanatics.”
“For years, several versions of climate change denial were in circulation. Today, luckily only a handful of fanatics deny the evidence,” Sánchez said in a webcast speech to COP25 climate conferees on Monday. “No one can escape this challenge by themselves. There is no wall that can protect any country, regardless of how powerful it is.”
At a webcast press conference Tuesday, conference President Carolina Schmidt Zaldívar, Chile’s environment minister, fielded questions from reporters asking how the world can save its climate without the help of the United States, one of the world’s top three polluters.
“We know that the United States announced its retreatment from the Paris agreement. But we know the American people want to be part of the solution,” Schmidt told one reporter.
“Not only the governments will make the changes. The people are the ones making the changes. We don’t have a big planet. But we have big people, big business, big governments that are going to push for the changes we need.”
The events in Madrid were webcast by the United Nations, which is coordinating international efforts to slow the pace of climate degradation.
President Donald Trump, who has long called climate change a hoax, sent no senior administration officials to the climate conference and has withdrawn the U.S. from international agreements to cut greenhouse gases.
To represent the United States anyway, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi assembled a 15-member Congressional delegation that is attending the conference. U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, a Tampa Democrat who chairs the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, is a ranking member of the delegation.
Also with the delegation in Madrid is U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat who said Americans disagree with Trump and other top Republicans on climate action and want the United States to resume the environmental work it was doing under President Obama and former Secretary of State John Kerry.
“Speaker Pelosi’s presence here … signals the broad consensus of the USA in favor of climate action. At the state level, at the city level, across the public, and in a great deal of corporate America, we are indeed still in,” Whitehead said in a webcast press conference in Madrid. “Unfortunately, we are having to fight our way through a bit of a blockade by the fossil-fuel industry.”
Delegates representing that sector, including U.S. and foreign oil producers, also are present in Madrid. Whitehouse said many in the industry claim to be going green but continue to block climate action they deem adverse to their financial interests.
“My first-hand experience is that the statements from their lips do not match the expenditure of their funds still dedicated to maintaining a significant political apparatus of denial and obstruction,” Whitehouse said, adding, “That will not prevail. The America that you know, the America of leadership, the America of progress, the America of confidence, the America of clean and green energy … That America will be back.”
Changes that support sustainability and prevent global warming are urgently required, according to climate science being shared at the conference. The World Meteorological Organization, an international scientific body reporting to the UN, reported just ahead of the conference that if the planet continues to warm at the current rate, the changed climate will soon become destructive.
Scientists want to halt the warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius, but the world has warmed by 1.1 degrees already, compared to pre-industrial temperatures. Greenhouse gases that trap heat in the atmosphere continue to accumulate at a pace that will warm the planet by more than 3 degrees C (5.4 F), the WMO reported to the UN.
The WMO’s reports for the conference conclude it is too late to avoid hitting 1.5 degrees of warming – unless all nations make “unprecedented changes in our lifestyle, energy and transport systems” to at least stabilize the rate of greenhouse gas emissions by 2020.
Widespread conversion from fossil fuels to clean energy such as solar power, wind power and electric vehicles is a big part of the strategy to slash greenhouse gas emissions immediately and achieve “carbon neutrality” by 2050. In reports published on the climate conference website, UN Secretary-General António Guterres told conferees that current practices constitute “a war on nature.”
The American delegation at the conference announced the United States intends to do its fair share of the work to fight climate change, despite the president’s stance, and pledged to mandate carbon neutrality in the United States by 2050.