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El Paso Times: El Paso will have voice in climate talks as Veronica Escobar arrives at COP26 in Glasgow

How effectively countries battle climate change will be decided in Scotland this week and U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar will have a voice in deciding the best path forward.
By Martha Pskowski

How effectively countries battle climate change will be decided in Scotland this week and U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar will have a voice in deciding the best path forward.

Escobar, D-El Paso, arrived Monday in Glasgow, Scotland, in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's delegation to the U.N. climate negotiations.

The 26th U.N. Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) began Oct. 31 and runs through Friday. Now that world leaders have left, negotiators will spend the final days hammering out specific agreements.

"I'm eager to roll up my sleeves and work internationally, as well as nationally and locally," Escobar, a member of the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, said in an interview before leaving for Scotland.

Last week, the U.S. and the EU announced a partnership to cut methane emissions. India committed to net zero emissions by 2070. Forty countries committed to phasing out coal power. But the details negotiators agree to this week will determine whether these pledges will be enough to meet the 2015 Paris Agreement to keep warming below 2 degrees Celsius to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

"It's too late to stop a lot of what's happening; you can't unmelt an ice cap," Escobar said. "But we can at least try to slow down some of the more extreme weather that is ahead."

Climate change in El Paso seen in migration, warming temperatures

A recent report from the Texas state climatologist found that average temperatures in El Paso County rose 0.83 degrees Fahrenheit since 1975. That was more than all but one of Texas' 254 counties. The study predicted the number of 100-degree days in Texas will nearly double by 2036, compared with 2001-2020.

"We are seeing the ravages of the climate catastrophe unfolding," Escobar said, "including in El Paso, where we are warming at an alarming rate."

"I was brought up in a community that has been very resilient, where we take care of one another," she said. "I feel the obligation to respond and to create a world that is better, especially for those most in need."

Escobar said the urgency of the climate crisis hit home as she saw extreme weather drive more migrants to the U.S.-Mexico border.

"It's been alarming over the last couple years to hear from migrants about the flooding that they are fleeing, or the hurricanes or drought," she said. "(There are) migrants arriving at our nation's front door, in our community, who are saying that they're fleeing famine."

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the U.N. body that assesses the science of climate change, has referenced the impacts of climate change on migration in its most recent reports.

In the lead-up to COP26, the International Organization for Migration called for increased support for "climate change adaptation action, measures and resources to avert and minimize displacement and strengthen people‚Äôs resilience."

Build Back Better plan held up in Congress

President Joe Biden traveled to Glasgow last week and underscored the U.S. commitment to climate action. The administration has committed to cutting domestic greenhouse gas emissions 50% below 2005 levels by 2030 and reaching net-zero emissions by 2050. 

But congressional gridlock slowed passage of the Build Back Better framework, an ambitious plan for social and climate spending. Biden and Pelosi had hoped to showcase the legislation in Glasgow. While the infrastructure bill passed Friday includes some provisions for climate adaptation and resilience, Build Back Better includes an additional $555 billion in clean energy investments, incentives and tax credits. Build Back Better will be voted on the week of Nov. 15.

Escobar said that if passed, the bill will be the "most significant climate legislation in the United States."

She said funds will be distributed to places such as El Paso that have been left out of federal programs.

"Equity is an important component of this and ensuring that communities like ours get the benefit," she said.

Heated climate politics in Texas

New climate policies will directly impact the oil and gas industries in Texas, which are large contributors to greenhouse gases. In Glasgow, Biden announced the global pledge to reduce methane emissions. Methane follows carbon dioxide as the biggest contributor to global warming. 

In West Texas's Permian Basin, the rollout of the Environmental Protection Agency's new methane regulations will be closely watched.

State environmental authorities will enforce the regulations, which will require companies to identify methane leaks on a quarterly basis. The EPA estimates the rule could reduce methane emissions by 41 million tons by 2035. The agency intends to issue a final rule before the end of 2022.

In El Paso, Escobar convened the Climate Crisis Advisory Committee in February. She said the objective is to bring together the private and public sectors and support stakeholders as they develop climate action plans.

"At the local level, we've got to make sure we're ready, we've got to make sure that that we are doing our part," she said.

Veronica Escobar: Our one shot to save the planet

Themes for the final days of the climate conference include gender, science and innovation, transportation and adaptation, loss and damage. Negotiations also will address unfinished parts of the Paris framework.

Pelosi's delegation, along with climate envoy John Kerry, will work to secure climate action in the conference's final days. Escobar said, "The beauty of traveling with (Speaker Pelosi) on a congressional delegation is she's able to get some pretty high level meetings set up."

Escobar said that COP26 and climate legislation in Congress are crucial opportunities to stop the worst of climate change.

"This is our shot," she said. "Our one shot, right now, to begin the hard work necessary to save our planet and to show leadership across the globe."

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