Opinion: Conservatives took a U.N. climate conference by storm. Here’s why that’s a good thing.

As the chair of the Utah Federation of College Republicans, I am encouraged by Republicans’ participation in conferences like these.

(Chris Samuels | The Salt Lake Tribune) U.S. Rep. John Curtis talks with Tom Moyer, of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby, while leading climate scientists and constituents on a hike in Rock Canyon in Provo, Monday, Sept. 26, 2022.

The international climate conference COP28 wrapped up in Dubai recently and, in the words of Congressman John Curtis (R-UT), Congressional Republicans were there to “push back on bad ideas and show how innovation can leave our world more prosperous and better than we found it.”

This is the first year that Republicans have outnumbered Democrats at the annual gathering.

As the chair of the Utah Federation of College Republicans, I am encouraged by Republicans’ participation in conferences like these. As conservatives become more involved in the debate about climate change, I see the narrative changing among my peers to include more diverse perspectives. The conservative American perspective — my perspective — has been shut out of the conversation for too long.

In the past, the conversation on climate has been dominated by the left, with Democrats pushing for a hasty phase-out of American fossil fuels and other policies that threaten energy affordability and reliability. Now, Republicans are leading the world in recognizing that innovation and markets — including improvements in fossil fuels, like liquified natural gas (LNG) — are doing more to lower emissions than a flat-out annihilation of fossil fuels could.

Democrats have also allowed the United Nations to coddle China and Russia while cracking down on the rest of us. For instance, the Democrats at COP this year kept the focus on American pollution, pledging billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars to the U.N. while expecting little from big emitters like China, who dump unprecedented amounts of pollution into the air with hardly any international accountability. Instead of the clear-eyed pragmatism one would expect from lawmakers who believe the world is under threat, Democrats expressed an upbeat attitude that the dictators that run these countries will follow our lead if we slash our own production of fossil fuels and wait patiently.

Their message comes at exactly the wrong time, in a moment when Russia’s war on Ukraine and renewed instability in the Middle East are causing Americans to second-guess their dependence on other countries for their energy needs. The United States has lowered its emissions more aggressively than other nations, and it would be unwise to target our own industries without holding these nations accountable.

By contrast, Republicans brought to the table ideas that could lower pollution globally while also promoting prosperity and independence from despotic regimes. They emphasized the need for nuclear, carbon capture and innovation in fossil fuels technology — investments that help make energy both clean and affordable.

By resisting the international culture of draconian bans and regulation, Republicans are protecting American manufacturers and producers, who are leading the world on pollution reduction. On some key manufactured goods, American production is 300% — sometimes even 400% — more efficient in terms of carbon pollution. Despite this, manufacturers in states like Utah face higher costs to meet the high bar of U.S. environmental standards, and their competitors from China, who do not meet those standards, are thereby allowed to release unchecked emissions with no accountability, as they outcompete us in our own markets.

This is why we need Republicans at COP. As Rep. Curtis explained to Congress earlier this month, “We should herald our successes and not hide them … in all the major sectors, we lead in cleanliness around the world.” Too many Democrats have proven they are unwilling to do that.

Meetings like COP happen with or without conservatives at the table, and when we’re not at the table, we end up on the menu. For far too long, we have let Democrats and other nations run the show, and no one has been there to represent Utah’s interests and push back. We have Rep. Curtis to thank for the fact that now — finally — Republicans are at the table and Americans have an advocate at COP.

Ryan Smith

Ryan Smith is a student at Utah State University and chair of the Utah Federation of College Republicans.

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