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Democratic Lawmakers Defend US Stance at Copenhagen Climate Summit

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Ahead of President Obama’s arrival in Copenhagen, a contingent of Democratic congressional leaders flew in Thursday to express support for the administration’s position at the summit meeting. Democracy Now! caught up with Rep. Henry Waxman of California, Ed Markey of Massachusetts and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Climate Countdown. I’m Amy Goodman. We’re broadcasting live from Copenhagen, where the summit is drawing to a close, but the emissions cuts countries have offered so far would still lead to global temperature rising by an average of three degrees Celsius, or 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s according to a leaked United Nations document exposed Thursday on Democracy Now! The confidential memo runs counter to assurances from the world’s biggest emitters that they’re aiming to ensure no more than a two degree Celsius temperature rise over the next century. A number of poor countries have been saying the world cannot afford a rise of more than 1.5 degrees Celsius, which would require limiting carbon emissions at 350 parts per million.

Ahead of President Obama’s arrival here in Copenhagen, a contingent of Democratic congressional leaders flew in Thursday to express support for the administration’s position at the summit meeting. After they held a news conference just beside our studio here in the Bella Center, Democracy Now! caught up with some of them in the hall. I questioned Representative Henry Waxman, the chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee, and Anjali Kamat questioned Congress member Ed Markey of Massachusetts. They’re the two co-sponsors of a climate change and energy bill that passed the House over the summer.

But first, Sharif Abdel Kouddous questioned House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer.

    SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: The issue of climate debt, many industrializing countries say that industrialized countries like the United States owe a debt historically for being the biggest polluters. What’s your response to that?

    REP. STENY HOYER: Oh, I don’t — I don’t — I don’t accept that. We have developed, that’s true. And in the course of developing, we have created the use of energy that then resulted in environmental consequences. And clearly, we’re going to have to assist other countries who are now wanting to develop and doing so in a way that we didn’t know, we all now all know. And that is, you’ve got to develop in a way that is both economically successful, but also does not degrade the environment.

    SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: There’s also been criticism at the conference of the 17 percent reduction, that that is actually just four percent of the 1990 levels that the rest of the world is adopting. Your thoughts on that?

    REP. STENY HOYER: Well, those are — those are deemed to be attainable. Those were ones that we could get agreement on in the House of Representatives. And if those — they’re still under discussion. But those were ones we could get agreement on.

    ANJALI KAMAT: Just one second, Congressman Markey. You said two degree rise in temperature is right for this historic moment. What does that mean for countries that say two degrees is suicide —- Africa, small island states, Bangladesh?

    REP. ED MARKEY: That we will work to do better, is the point that I made, is that we will work to do better. And once we unleash this technological revolution, my opinion is that we will solve the problem, and we will protect these countries. But we have -—

    ANJALI KAMAT: But how — these countries don’t have very much time at all.

    REP. ED MARKEY: I know they don’t, and that’s why — unfortunately, losing the eight years of the Bush administration put the United States behind in this effort. But what we are trying to do now is to provide a leadership role.

    ANJALI KAMAT: The UNFCCC itself says with current emission reduction levels, temperatures are going to rise by three degrees, not even two degrees. What is the US going to do to cut emissions further?

    REP. ED MARKEY: Exactly. This is the beginning of the United States’ commitment, not the end, OK? We will improve as the years go on. As — I was making the analogy to the telecommunications revolution, where if I said ten years ago, villages in the remotest part of Africa and Asia would have cell phone towers, would have broadband technology, you’d say, “Well, that’s impossible.” If everyone in the world knew what Google was ten years ago and knew how to use it, you would say that’s impossible. We are going to do the same thing with solar, with wind, with geothermal, with biomass, with all these technologies. And we’re going to find a way that we sequester the greenhouse gases from coal, because we’re willing to make a commitment of upwards of $80 billion in this legislation.

    AMY GOODMAN: Congressman Waxman, hi, it’s Amy Goodman from Democracy Now!

    REP. HENRY WAXMAN: Hi, how are you?

    AMY GOODMAN: Hi. Remember, you came into our studio?

    REP. HENRY WAXMAN: Yeah, sure. Nice to see you again.

    AMY GOODMAN: Quick question. We’ve been here covering this for two weeks —-


    AMY GOODMAN: —- doing a daily hour. Especially the developing countries deeply concerned about this issue of two degrees Celsius, that that could mean suicide for them. They want it lower. They want the numbers to 1.5.

    REP. HENRY WAXMAN: Mm-hmm. Well, I think that we have to follow the science and get the numbers as tight as we could possibly can. And I think that when Chairman Markey responded to this issue, he pointed out that we’ll follow the science, we’ll achieve those reductions, but with the new technology that’s going to be developed and further refinement of the understanding of the dangers of global warming, we’ll probably be able to even do better than we set out to do.

    AMY GOODMAN: There’s also a frustration here among the developing nations, a majority of the world, around the issue of climate debt, that they’re not the ones who did the polluting, but they’re the ones who have to pay.

    REP. HENRY WAXMAN: Well, I think they should be heartened by Secretary Clinton’s comments today to be able to facilitate the enormous amount of money to help with adaptation and deforestation. It shows the US commitment to these developing countries.

AMY GOODMAN: California Congress member Henry Waxman, chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee.

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