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Lots Of Countries Have Passed Climate Bills, But The U.S. Is Still Behind The Times

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WASHINGTON -- There now exist nearly 500 climate-related laws in 66 different countries, according to a report released Thursday.

The report comes from the Global Legislators Organization (GLOBE International), a group that brings together lawmakers from around the world in the interest of promoting environmental action. One hundred legislators from 50 countries are meeting in Washington Thursday and Friday, and the report was released as part of that event.

The study includes laws that price carbon as well those that spur energy efficiency and curb energy demand. The group called the spread of climate-related legislation "a spectacular wave of progress," noting that in 1997, there were only 36 laws on the books around the world meant to address climate change, compared to 487 today. The countries included in the study account for 88 percent of global emissions.

The report was released at an event in the Senate's Russell Office building, which made it all the more conspicuous that, unlike dozens of other countries, the U.S. still lacks a comprehensive law dealing with climate change. In 2009, the House passed a climate bill, but it never went to a vote in the Senate. (The report delicately notes that "[in] the USA, dedicated climate change legislation remains politically challenging," while mentioning executive actions that the Obama administration has taken.)

Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), who coauthored the 2009 bill, hosted Thursday's rollout for the report. He noted that while the House bill did not become law, "it sent a strong signal" that helped form the basis of the commitment to cutting emissions that the U.S. made in Copenhagen that year.

"I will keep working to pass legislation in the United States to address climate change," said Markey.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) also acknowledged the U.S.'s slow movement on climate change legislation, while nevertheless striking a positive tone.

"This is a very exciting challenge," said Pelosi. "If we respect different countries' concerns, if we respect science -- and that's where it's sometimes a little tricky in the Congress of the United States -- we will accomplish our goals."

While marking the laws that have already passed, the lawmakers in attendance also pushed for more progress ahead of the 2015 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Paris, where a new international treaty is expected to be finalized. John Gummer, the Chair of the United Kingdom's statutory Committee on Climate Change and president of GLOBE, said more work from legislators is an "essential precursor to a successful meeting in Paris in 2015."

The report cites eight countries that made "substantial progress" by passing new legislation in 2013, many of them developing countries: Boliva, El Salvador, Guatemala, Kenya, Micronesia, Mozambique, Nigeria and Switzerland.

"No country is acting alone," said Terry Townshend, the author of the study and policy director at GLOBE International. "This study blows out of the water the idea of those who resist action that say, 'Why should we be the ones to put our heads above water, why should we put ourselves at a competitive disadvantage?'"

Townshend cautioned, however, that even all those laws do not put the world on a path to meet the goal of limiting the rise in global temperature to 2 degrees Celsius, a goal that UN negotiators set at their 2009 convention in Copenhagen. And Townshend noted that several countries have rolled back environmental progress in the past year, including Australia, where the new government is getting rid of the carbon tax that the country had previously enacted, and Japan, which last fall reduced its targets for cutting emissions.

The overall tone of the meeting, however, was positive about the prospect of meaningful action to reduce human contributions to climate change.

"It always seems impossible, until it is done," said Cedric Frolick, chairman of the South African National Assembly.

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