Murkowski straddles divide on climate at COP28

Senator Lisa Murkowski at an election night gathering
Lisa Murkowski greets supporters during her election night party in downtown Anchorage. (Wesley Early\/Alaska Public Media)

More than 100 countries fought hard — and unsuccessfully — at the COP28 climate summit for a pledge in the final agreement to “phase out” oil. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, was among those saying it was a step too far.

“To move to a phase-out, I think does not recognize the transition reality that that we are, we’re currently facing,” she told reporters at the summit in Dubai.

Murkowski was the only Republican senator to attend the COP 28 summit in Dubai, and her presence underlined her unusual spot: As senator from an oil-producing state, she favors more oil and gas production from Alaska while also advocating for reducing carbon emissions to avoid the worst impact of climate change.

One reporter asked Murkowski how she can justify supporting Arctic oil projects like Willow, when small island nations face existential threats from climate change and rising seas. Murkowski shrugged off the blame and affiliated her constituents with those on the frontlines of climate change. 

“So many of these small islanded countries are not unlike parts of Alaska,” she said.

Alaska’s climate is changing faster than the global average, she noted, and Alaskans are coping with decreased sea ice, thawing permafrost and coastal erosion, among other changes. Alaska villages need sustainable energy projects, just as island nations do, Murkowski said.

“But we can’t flip that switch and make it happen tomorrow,” she said, adding that renewable energy projects are hampered by permitting delays and supply-chain challenges. “So this is a collective effort. But it should not be viewed as one where you are penalizing those who are trying to ensure that we can use the resources that we have to help develop the solutions that it will take to address the problem for those small islanded nations and the small villages in a place like Alaska.”

Ultimately, representatives of nearly 200 countries agreed at the United Nations climate summit on “transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems, in a just, orderly and equitable manner.”

It was a negotiated statement, supposedly less powerful than phasing out fossil fuels, though some participants said it still means oil’s days are numbered.

Liz Ruskin is the Washington, D.C., correspondent at Alaska Public Media. Reach her Read more about Lizhere.

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