The recently released report from the International Panel on Climate Change, the world’s most authoritative scientific assessment on the subject, should keep us all up at night. The report concludes unambiguously that steep reductions in carbon emission will be required in the coming decades to slow unprecedented warming and the threats it poses to the planet and to us. We really do not need a report to understand the gravity of changes that are already occurring: Evidence is everywhere this summer, in fires consuming towns on the West Coast, previously unfathomable heat waves in the Pacific Northwest, devastating flooding in Germany, Belgium and China.
Our nation’s response to the climate crisis will depend on what Congress does in the coming months as the House and Senate hash out a $3.5 trillion spending bill. The monumental importance of this legislation cannot be understated. It could potentially generate millions of family-sustaining jobs in clean energy industries, create energy-efficient, electric and climate-resilient affordable homes for millions of Americans and lay the foundation to rapidly electrify transportation, helping to avert dangerous warming and better guard our children’s future while improving people’s health and lives today.
New York, which passed a nation-leading climate law in 2019, stands to benefit greatly from a strong federal commitment on climate. The Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act requires New York to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030 and achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. Importantly, the law commits the state to achieving these goals equitably, which will require significant public investment to ensure that disadvantaged communities are not left behind.
To have a truly transformative impact, the Build Back Better bill must include a federal Clean Energy Standard. President Biden has made this a priority, and with good reason: Reducing emissions from transportation and buildings, which account for the lion’s share of our climate-damaging emissions, will require shifting to technologies like electric vehicles and heat pumps that will need to be powered by carbon-free electricity. The technology exists today to reliably generate much of our country’s electricity from renewables. A recent meta-analysis by Energy Innovation of studies modeling a federal Clean Energy Standard shows wide agreement that by 2030 the country’s grid could be 80 percent renewable with little impact on consumer costs. A federal standard would, moreover, drive investments creating up to a million new jobs, avoid one to three trillion dollars in health and climate damages through 2050 and prevent 85,000 to 350,000 premature deaths from fossil fuel pollution.
Beyond the benefits to our economy, environment and health, a federal spending bill that meaningfully responds to the climate emergency could have a game-changing impact on international climate negotiations in November, helping to generate the needed momentum for stronger international commitments to reduce emissions. The US, once a leader on global environmental issues, became an undependable partner and an outright obstructionist under Trump. The Biden administration is trying to change this, but the international community needs to see action, not just words, from the world’s second-largest greenhouse gas emitter. All eyes will be on this spending bill, which will signal to the world whether or not our country will step up to the challenge. Our federal representatives have an opportunity to protect the planet. Let’s not squander it.
Jen Metzger served in the State Senate in 2019-2020. She is a consultant on climate and energy initiatives and policy advisor to New Yorkers for Clean Power.