Cardin, state environment secretary heading to international climate conference in Dubai

Maryland Environment Secretary Serena McIlwain testifying on Capitol Hill earlier this year. Maryland Department of the Environment photo.

U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin (D) and state Environment Secretary Serena McIlwain are the top Maryland officials headed to the annual international climate conference now underway in the United Arab Emirates.

The two-week confab, known as COP 28 (officially the 28th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change), brings together policymakers, business leaders and environmental activists to set international goals for fighting climate change, discuss ways to finance clean energy development, and look at technology demonstrations — along with good, old-fashioned political advocacy and protest.

Vice President Kamala Harris is leading the U.S. delegation to the COP.

McIlwain is already on the ground in Dubai and plans to be there through Wednesday. McIlwain’s predecessor as secretary, Ben Grumbles, was last at the international climate conference in 2021, when it was held in Glasgow, Scotland.

McIlwain will serve on several panels hosted by the U.S. Climate Alliance, a group of state governments working to meet international climate goals, and other global climate partners. On Sunday she’ll be part of a panel called “The Science Behind Carbon Markets,” sponsored by the Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI).

According to EESI, she’ll be joined on the panel by Rachel Lamb, the Maryland Department of the Environment’s senior climate adviser, and speakers from the Woodwell Climate Research Center, American Forests, and the American Forest Foundation.

The panelists are expected to explore the science behind carbon markets, and steps to increase confidence in this method of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. McIlwain will speak about Maryland’s  participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a carbon-trading market that makes power plants in 12 northeastern states pay for their carbon emissions. Maryland largely uses these proceeds to fund clean energy grants.

The Department of the Environment said that at COP 28, McIlwain will promote Maryland’s goals of achieving a 60% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2031, 100% clean energy by 2035, and net-zero emissions by 2045, along with plans to transition off of fossil fuels, retrofit buildings for energy efficiency, scale vehicle electrification, and build a foundation for the green economy.

“Maryland is joining the world stage with some of the most ambitious climate goals on Earth,” McIlwain said. “Working with other governments, businesses and citizen groups to develop an economy-wide, science-based plan to help meet these goals is critical. Participating in COP 28 provides a unique opportunity for Maryland to build new partnerships and learn how others are working to tackle the climate crisis through innovative policies, programs and financing.”

Meanwhile, Cardin, the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, plans to lead a bipartisan delegation of seven senators to the COP on Dec. 9 and 10. He’s been going regularly to these U.N. conferences since COP 21 of 2016 in Paris, when scores of governments agreed to international emissions reduction goals. The U.S. pulled out of that agreement when Donald Trump became president, but recommitted to those goals during the Biden administration.

Sue Walitsky, a Cardin spokesperson, said the senator will be joined in Dubai by Sens. Tom Carper (D-Del.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii).

Walitsky called this group, which includes committee chairs and veteran appropriators, “people who are really in a position to get stuff done.”

The senators are expected to meet with business leaders and clean energy entrepreneurs from different countries and will also discuss human rights — a longtime interest of Cardin’s — food security, international finance and more, Walitsky said. They’re scheduled to appear on a panel over the weekend at the U.S. pavilion at the conference and will also hold two news conferences while there.

“It’s important for continuity that Congress is on the ground and engaged and committed,” Walitsky said.

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