State Department didn’t track carbon footprint of climate summit flights

“Americans are tired of bureaucrats in Washington, D.C. who don’t practice what they preach when it comes to protecting the environment,” Capito said in an email to POLITICO’s E&E News.

The State Department said in an email that the department is working to counter global climate change “at scale,” an effort that requires “face-to-face diplomacy.” That includes reducing pollution from the aviation and shipping industries.

“We have already seen in recent history that when we don’t show up, we cede leadership to others,” the department said, alluding to the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the 2015 Paris climate agreement, a move that Biden reversed.

U.S. climate envoy John Kerry “believes in showing up and doing everything he can to keep 1.5 degrees [Celsius] within reach,” the department added. Scientists have warned that exceeding that threshold would mean runaway warming.

The White House declined to comment.

The State Department leads delegations to the annual U.N. climate confabs that include officials from other agencies — including the president in some years. The federal government sent 191 executive branch officials to the 2021 talks in Glasgow, Scotland, and 259 to last year’s summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, according to a tally included with the report.

In its report, GAO said the State Department didn’t analyze air travel emissions for either meeting because it is still working on a methodology for doing so.

GAO recommended that the State Department “consistently” measure the greenhouse gas emissions created by flying to U.N. climate gatherings in order to align with Biden’s goal of a zero-carbon U.S. economy by 2050.

“For State and other federal agencies, the first step in meeting these goals is understanding U.S. greenhouse gas emissions from air travel and other sources, including U.S. delegation air travel” to U.N. climate summits, the GAO wrote.

In a response to GAO included in the report, State Department Comptroller James Walsh said the department agrees “with the thrust of the recommendation.” But he suggested that GAO expand its advice to include a request for greenhouse gas accounting for all State Department air travel, not just to U.N. climate conferences.

Ernst, who took the lead in requesting GAO’s investigation, said in an email to E&E News that the aim was to highlight the Biden administration’s “hypocrisy.”

“The gas is always greener when you’re burning fossil fuels in the name of saving the planet,” she said. “While giving lip service to greenies, Biden bureaucrats are blatantly emitting the greenhouse gases they demonize. The double standard is clear, and Americans have had enough of this hot air.”

Capito’s emailed statement echoed that sentiment.

“In the Biden administration, the same people who are closing down power plants across the country and forcing Americans to buy electric vehicles are also the ones flying to climate conferences and using fossil fuels without apology,” Capito wrote.

GAO pointed to a report by the U.K. government that found that aviation travel to the 2021 conference in Glasgow made up a significant share of the meeting’s overall carbon pollution.

Those talks were reported to be the highest-emitting climate summit to date, according to numerous outlets.

A report compiled for the U.K. by the sustainable management firm Arup estimated that the Glasgow meeting would result in roughly twice the carbon emissions of the previous conference held in Madrid in 2019.