BOSTON – The ongoing effort to keep up the pressure to pass climate policy legislation into law this session got a high-profile boost Wednesday when former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called into a Senate committee hearing to lend his voice to the cause.
Kerry, who negotiated the emission-reduction goals of the Paris Climate Agreement and signed it on behalf of the United States in 2016, joined an oversight hearing of the Senate Committee on Global Warming and Climate Change to thank the lawmakers and advocates who are trying to ensure that the Massachusetts Legislature gets a climate change bill to Gov. Charlie Baker before time runs out.
"We're not getting the job done. When I say we, I mean collectively everybody -- parliaments, legislators, presidents, prime ministers," Kerry, who also served nearly 30 years in the U.S. Senate, said. "When we negotiated the Paris Agreement, we knew that we could not get to a mandatory reduction of emissions that would guarantee the Earth's temperature would stay at two degrees centigrade or aspirationally at 1.5 [degrees], which would be better. But right now we're blowing past 1.5, we're blowing past 2.0."
Kerry's comments came during a hearing at which participants highlighted the urgency of climate policy and lawmakers affirmed their determination to sending the governor some form of a climate change bill before formal sessions run out.
Sen. Marc Pacheco, who chaired the hearing Wednesday, has been rallying colleagues to commit to passing a climate bill or package by the end of July, which is the current deadline for significant legislative action. Pacheco said more than 40 other legislators have signed on to a statement he circulated in the last week.
"We're not talking about a specific set of guarantees, but that we need climate action now," he said. "I'm pleased to see from the minority leader of the Senate to the speaker pro temp of the House and so many others that have signed on to say now is the time to get climate action done."
Both branches have passed major climate-related legislation already this session. The House last July unanimously approved a roughly $1.3 billion bill -- the so-called GreenWorks bill -- centered around grants spread out over ten years to help communities adapt to climate change impacts, and at the end of January the Senate overwhelmingly passed a suite of climate bills that called for net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, and set deadlines for the state to impose carbon-pricing mechanisms for transportation, commercial buildings and homes.
Kerry said it is essential that state governments do as much as they can to address climate change since the Trump administration pulled the United States out of the Paris Climate Agreement and has not embraced climate policy as a priority.
"If we did everything we set out to do in Paris, we are regrettably still going to hit 3.7 degrees Fahrenheit [warming]. And we're not doing everything we said we'd do in Paris. So that's why your efforts are just so critical," he said. "I mean, this is going to need to be state-led and until, hopefully, we get an administration that's willing to really tackle this, the fact is we are currently on track to hit anywhere between 4.1 and 2.5 degrees [warming], depends on sort of who you talk to."
Rep. Maria Robinson, a first-term Democrat who previously worked with the Department of Energy Resources, said it is also important politically that the Legislature pass meaningful climate policy legislation into law this session because a number of newer lawmakers like herself were sent to Beacon Hill by constituents who are demanding action on the issue.
"I know in my cohort of new legislators that came in just this session, I think almost all of us were voted in on some sort of climate change-related mandate and I think we're going to see that more and more coming in," Robinson said.
She added, "Folks from from the South Shore are here and people from Western Massachusetts are here on a climate change mandate specifically and I think if we don't go back to our districts this time and say we passed something bold and insignificant, it's gonna be really, really difficult for us because so many of our constituents are demanding it every moment."
Ending his pep talk of sorts Wednesday, Kerry reminded the committee that tackling climate change is doable, but will require leadership especially with "a lot of liars lying about what the impacts are," the former secretary said.
"It's like just like COVID, you know half the country took it really seriously, put on their masks, sheltered in place. Everybody did what they have to do and a bunch of yahoos in various states in the country are out there playing like it's not serious, nothing to do, and Trump's enhanced that. And the result is they may create this enormous resurgence that shuts down our economy again and makes life rougher for everybody. So we ought to be angry about that," Kerry said. "And we ought to be angry about the denying ... That's the same thing the same people have done to climate, remember that. And that should motivate people to say we've got to get off our asses and and make things happen, and that's what you're trying to do right now."