Several US agencies, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Department of Energy (DOE), will see a significant influx of money from a massive climate and tax bill that US President Joe Biden signed into law on August 16. Scientists around the world are cheering the legislation, called the Inflation Reduction Act, which promises $369 billion in climate investments over the next decade — while acknowledging that more work is needed to combat global warming.
The legislation would reduce US greenhouse gas emissions about 30–40% below 2005 levels by 2030scientists estimate, bringing the country closer to fulfillment his 50% reduction promise that Biden made last year. And it signals to other nations that the United States, a major emitter that has historically pumped the largest share of greenhouse gases into the Earth’s atmosphere, is on board to tackle climate change, scientists say.
After former President Donald Trump took steps away from climate action, “returns the US to a leadership position,” said Michael Mann, a climate scientist at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. “Helping create a global climate for action.”
That’s because the 2015 Paris climate agreement, which aims to limit the rise in global average temperatures to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, works on the basis of “reciprocal action”, says Michael Paley, an energy researcher at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany. This means that governments take into account the actions of other nations when setting their climate agendas.
If the United States had not raised the bar with this legislation, many countries could have relaxed their own commitments by citing inaction despite the great responsibility, Paley says. “The Paris mechanism is all about reciprocity and the big emitters are decisive in setting the standards.”
Money for the climate
The Inflation Reduction Act provides about $490 million for climate and weather forecasting at NOAA, including $50 million for climate research grants; $190 million to purchase high performance computer equipment; and $100 million to purchase hurricane surveillance aircraft.
Through a competitive grant program, it also funds research into environmentally friendly jet fuel, thereby limiting emissions from air transportation. And it provides $60 billion in grants and tax credits for clean energy investments and pollution cleanup projects in disadvantaged communities.
The biggest chunk of money from the legislation goes to clean energy, with $128 billion in tax credits over the next decade for businesses that switch to greener energy sources like solar, says Brian O’Callaghan, an economist at the University of Oxford. United Kingdom . That’s about 13% of today’s renewable energy market. “The scale of this bill is huge, especially on energy,” says O’Callaghan.
More than $60 billion is projected to go toward manufacturing clean energy technologies in the U.S., such as solar panels and electric vehicles, and billions more are included in tax credits for decarbonization, clean vehicle purchases, and household efficiency improvements – making it the largest climate investment in US history.
Despite their excitement about the legislation, scientists say the United States needs to do more. Even if all nations meet their climate targets, the global temperature will rise above the 1.5°C limit, says Roxy Mathew Kohl, a climatologist at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology in Pune.
Low- and lower-middle-income countries will be most affected, he says. “South Asia, especially India, is already a hotspot, with a three-fold increase in extreme rainfall, a 50% increase in cyclones from the Arabian Sea and increasing heat waves in recent decades,” he says.
Mohamed Addou, a climate policy expert at Power Shift Africa, a Nairobi-based think tank, says the United States needs to take responsibility for its historic emissions and help provide climate finance promised to poorer nations in the Paris Agreement. Rich nations promised to give $100 billion a year by 2025 to poorer ones, but the money has not materialized. “This is what we need to see for a real leap in progress on the global stage,” he says.
Ideally, poorer nations that will be most affected by global warming would benefit from this huge US investment, the researchers say. For that to happen, the Biden administration needs to craft a foreign policy that enables knowledge sharing, said Shayak Sengupta, an energy policy researcher at the Observer Research Foundation America, a Washington-based affiliate of an Indian think tank. “All of this industrial policy will create know-how and goods that can flow between the United States and other countries if we design the policy incentives right.”
Vote for the climate
It’s unclear whether the legislation will build goodwill among lower-income nations ahead of the next international climate summit to be held in Egypt in November, Sengupta says. “Some countries may view this bill as long overdue and as the US’s zero minimum.”
The United States is where the European Union was a decade ago in terms of climate action, Paley says. Even with the DCA, the United States’ green investment since 2020 has lagged behind that of France, Italy and South Korea when historical emissions are taken into account, according to data from the University of Oxford’s Global Recovery Observatory.
The deflationary law isn’t perfect, Mann says. But instead of harping on the restrictions, critics should win and encourage people to vote in the U.S. midterm elections in November, he adds. Important seats in the US Senate and House of Representatives will be won. “My hope is that after the midterm elections, there will be an even larger majority of climate-minded lawmakers in Congress — a large enough majority that we can pass tougher legislation.”
This article is reproduced with permission and was first published on August 16, 2022