Ocasio-Cortez in Glasgow: 'America is back' as a leader on climate change, and this time 'it is different'

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Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez addresses a panel at the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland, on Tuesday. (Yves Herman/Reuters)

GLASGOW, Scotland — At the U.N. Climate Change Conference on Tuesday, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., said that “America is back” as a leader on climate change and predicted that the Biden administration’s Build Back Better plan and its wide-ranging climate provisions would soon be passed into law. 

“America is back at COP, on the international stage as a leader on climate action,” the Green New Deal co-author said at an event alongside other Democratic lawmakers. “One thing that I think is so exciting about this time is that when we say that the United States is back, it’s not just that we’re back in the way that the United States was pursuing climate policy before,” she added. “It is different.”

Ocasio-Cortez credited the mobilization of climate activists for pushing the United States toward embracing greater ambition in combating climate change. She mentioned her own role as a protester against building new fossil fuel infrastructure in places like the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in South Dakota.

“I think what we saw throughout the uprisings during the Trump era, through the increased sophistication and mobilization of climate grassroots, was an alternative path, an alternative framework for how we can pursue climate justice,” she said.

Ten years ago, Ocasio-Cortez said, “the most ambitious thing we were talking about was maybe cap-and-trade and carbon taxes, which is not to give short shrift to those proposals, but to say that was almost the extent, that was the height of our ambition.”

Since then, she said, the terms of understanding for how to fight climate change have shifted, and that change informed the Green New Deal proposal that she co-sponsored. “We can’t actually just pursue decarbonization. It has to center a benefit for the working class, for the vulnerable, for frontline communities, people of color, women, underserved communities, and it has to have a justice and jobs focus in order for us to meet our emissions goals,” she said. “That’s what’s going to make it politically popular.”

Ocasio-Cortez was joined onstage by Reps. Joe Neguse of Colorado, Veronica Escobar of Texas, Sean Casten of Illinois and Mike Levin of California. 

Escobar, who is from a border community, said climate change is poised to make the recent surge of migrants in the U.S. “exceptionally worse,” and added that the $1 trillion in spending on climate in the Build Back Better and infrastructure bills is “still not enough” to meet America’s pledge of achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. 

Asked about the prospects for the Build Back Better Act in the U.S. Senate, Casten made clear the expectation of House Democrats. 

“All of us are going to be furious if the Senate drops the ball on this,” he said. 

Yet Ocasio-Cortez assured her audience that it was a matter of when, not if, it would be passed. 

“I believe that when — I’m going to claim it — when we pass the Build Back Better Act, when we do we absolutely will become and regain our position in leading on climate emissions,” she said. “But there still is more to be done, and that includes a scope of executive actions, additional legislation and much, much, much more.” 

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