Climate action in the US has always been marked by one constant: it was impossible to get the Senate to pass a comprehensive climate bill. Now, things seem to have finally changed. After a long session, the Senate approved a bill that includes $369 billion for climate action, a move that could put the US more in line with the Paris Agreement.
It’s the most important climate bill in US history and the first step in a long-term effort to transform the measure into a massive expansion of renewable energy. If the House approves the Senate bill, sending it to US President Joe Biden’s desk, it has a real chance of bringing down emissions and resetting the dynamic in global climate talks.
The bill touches every sector of the economy, introduces subsidies to renewable, geothermal and nuclear power, as well as carbon capture and removal, and encourages new clean-energy manufacturing industries to set up in the US. At over $369 billion, it’s the largest investment in climate change ever made in US history.
As the Senate neared a final vote, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York said the vote would “endure as one of the defining legislative feats of the 21st century.” Schumer also dedicated the bill to the “tens of millions of young Americans who have spent years marching, rallying, demanding that Congress act on climate change.”
Climate change and the US
Not every country has the same share of responsibility in terms of climate change. The top 10 emitters account for two-thirds of greenhouse gas emissions and have large populations and economies. China is the leading emitter at 26% of global greenhouse gas emissions, followed by the US (12.5%), India (7%), and the European Union (7%). Historically, however, the US is the largest polluter in the world by a wide margin.
Since Biden took office in January 2021, his administration has made climate change one of its leading priorities — setting more ambitious targets than former president Donald Trump and re-engaging in international climate diplomacy. But it has faced big setbacks in implementing domestic legislation, limited by Congress’ climate inaction.
The new bill is expected to reduce US emissions to about 40% below their all-time high, according to studies from independent analysts. This would get the US about two-thirds of the way to accomplishing Biden’s goal of reducing emissions 50% below their all-time high by 2030, Princeton climate researcher Jesse Jenkins estimated. It’s not perfect, but it’s definitely a leap in the right direction.
This would be accomplished by encouraging the transition to electric vehicles, subsidizing zero-carbon electricity production and encouraging companies to adopt low-carbon manufacturing techniques. However, the bill includes a provision that the government must lease public lands for fossil fuels when it offers them to renewables.
Major environmental groups have supported the bill, describing it as a pivotal moment in the US fight against the climate crisis. The bill could also be a game changer for global climate talks, they’ve argued, as it would help the US regain some of the credibility it lost internationally during the Trump years.
The world has already warmed 1.1 degrees Celsius since the start of the industrial era, and temperatures will keep rising unless governments make big cuts to emissions. Climate change increases the strength and frequency of extreme weather events, from hurricanes to flooding. The US has been drastically affected by wildfires and flooding in recent years, and nearly two thirds of Americans consider climate change as a top priority for Congress and the President.