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The Hill Congress Blog: An inflection point in climate politics

In light of the COP21 Conference – an annual forum to try to tackle climate change on a global political level – GSG’s Andrew Baumann and Matt Canter discuss climate politics and its potential implications for the 2016 elections and beyond. Below is a brief of the piece. For the full article on The Hill’s Congress blog click here.

When we look back on the latter part of 2015, it will be seen as among the most critical periods for climate politics, both global and domestic, in memory. With the critical international climate talks in Paris almost upon us, a look at recent political news suggests we are at an inflection point in climate politics that could have far-reaching implications for the 2016 elections and beyond.

Since June, we have seen Pope Francis’ sweeping encyclical on climate change and speech to a joint session of Congress, a Canadian election that ushered in a new pro-climate government, the death knell of the Keystone Pipeline, and the UK announcing it would phase out its remaining coal power plants in the next 10 years. But the must-read tea leaf came recently from endangered New Hampshire Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte, who tried to distance herself from her party and her own record by announcing that she would support limits on carbon pollution under President Obama’s Clean Power Plan (CPP).

Since the rise of the Tea Party in 2010, a nearly unwavering rejection of the scientific consensus around climate has been a persistent part of Republican dogma – until recently. Ayotte’s attempt to greenwash her record and her party’s reputation is the most recent indication that a reversal of this trend is underway. Vulnerable Republicans in purple states that want to speak to the general electorate in 2016 have little choice but to distance themselves from their climate-denying brethren – and their anti-climate voting records.

It is no coincidence that Ayotte’s announcement came exactly three weeks after New Hampshire governor Maggie Hassan announced she would challenge the Republican. Nor is it a coincidence that Sen.Mark Kirk of Illinois, the most vulnerable Republican in the Senate, recently joined Ayotte in voting against the Republican CRA disapproving of the CPP, nor that 11 House Republicans, most from swing districts, recently signed onto a resolution acknowledging that climate change is caused by humans and calling for action to address the problem.

These endangered Republicans are right to worry. In the last two weeks, two of the most respected polls on energy an environmental issues, the University of Michigan National Survey on Energy and Environment and the University of Texas Energy Poll, both released new data showing a sharp uptick in the belief that climate change is occurring – returning to its 2008 apex (back when the GOP nominee for president supported cap-and-trade).

Moreover, poll after poll shows that climate action is overwhelmingly popular. A recent poll for the League of Conservation Voters (conducted by a bipartisan team of pollsters) showed that a 60 to 28 percent majority supported the CPP, even after they heard a simulated debate about the issue that included messages from opponents of the plan. And Quinnipiac recently found that two-to-one majorities in Colorado, Virginia, and Iowa backed Pope Francis’ call for climate action.

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