U.S. public opinion is shifting in favor of more concrete action on climate change regardless of what the Republican presidential contenders are saying, according to one of the men vying to be the voice of global warming research.
Chris Field, the U.S. nominee to lead a United Nations panel that brings together more than 2,000 climate scientists, said poll findings and business groups indicate a willingness by Americans to rein in fossil-fuel emissions.
“If you look across Democrats and Republicans, there’s now a big majority of people who agree climate change is an important problem and that we ought to do something about it,” Field, 62, said in a phone interview from Baltimore, where he was attending a meeting of the Ecological Society of America.
The remarks signal the momentum behind the UN-sponsored talks aiming for a global deal on limiting greenhouse gas in all nations by the end of this year. Envoys from more than 190 countries will meet in Paris in December to seal the agreement, which has support from President Barack Obama’s administration along with governments from China to Australia.
Field has been nominated to lead the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the leading authority on climate science, which will pick its new leader in Croatia in October.
In the U.S., where climate skepticism has kept the world’s biggest economy from joining the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, “what I’m seeing is more and more businesses and states and communities are asking for the opportunity to implement solutions,” said Field, an environmental studies professor who’s spent his career researching the impacts of higher temperatures.
Polls in the U.S. generally show rising support for action on climate change, although Republicans typically show less enthusiasm than Democrats and independents. In July, a Quinnipiac University survey found two-thirds of swing-state voters in Colorado, Iowa and Virginia agreed with Pope Francis’ call in June for the world to act.
That support hasn’t reined in opposition from Republican presidential candidates. Last week, the party’s nominees almost universally panned Obama’s new regulations on power plant pollution, saying the measure would kill jobs and clobber the economy.
The Paris talks are aimed at getting all nations to agree to greenhouse gas cuts that keep global temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) this century. Field, one of five nominees to lead the climate-change panel, said he’s optimistic about the negotiations.
“The big concern is an agreement that lacks the ambition to eventually reduce emissions to zero,” he said. “The science is overwhelmingly clear that we need to build a pathway to get there, and I feel like that has increasingly been understood and internalized at the highest levels.”