You are probably accustomed to hearing a lot of gloomy talk about the climate—and with good reason. Climate change threatens human lives and livelihoods at a scale perhaps unmatched by any other issue short of global thermonuclear war, and governments haven’t come anywhere close to adequately addressing it despite decades of efforts.
This week’s climate investment agreement announced by Joe Manchin, West Virginia senator and Senate Majority leader Chuck Schumer may make a difference. With $385 million in funding aimed at improving America’s energy efficiency, the Inflation Reduction Act (or the Inflation Reduction Act) will pass if it is passed. This legislation would encourage the deployment of renewable energy and invest in new technologies. It also supports consumers who are committed to a cleaner energy future. “This is the package that we have been waiting for,” says Leah Stokes, a professor of environmental politics at the University of California Santa Barbara who has been a key advocate for robust climate policy. “This is a transformative bill.”
The effects of those measures could spread beyond the U.S. By helping put President Joe Biden’s emissions-reductions goals within reach, the bill could send a signal around the globe that the U.S., the world’s largest economy, remains committed to tackling climate change. This legislation is a positive step in a world where climate change is being ignored by many countries, at a time of crisis after crisis.
This article will explain why you should care about this law. it’s important to understand the urgency of climate change. Scientists have said that when the planet warms somewhere between 1.5°C and 2°C over pre-industrial levels the world is likely to experience a series of catastrophic effects, including irreversible tipping points—think of the collapse of the Greenland ice sheet or the thawing of permafrost that stores greenhouse gases. It could cause a dramatic acceleration in climate change effects. This could include a fast rise in sea levels and a faster rise in temperature.
The planet has already warmed about 1.2°C, and so to have a good chance of forestalling 1.5°C of temperature rise humans need to cut emissions quickly by about 45% by 2030 from 2010 levels and cut them entirely in the second half of the century. Biden identified goals in line with this scientific consensus when he assumed office. Biden promised to reduce U.S. emission by half compared with 2005 levels by 2030, and achieved net zero emissions by 2050.
Eight years is a short time in the energy world. Infrastructure built today can last for decades. It was becoming increasingly probable that the United States would not achieve his goal, even though Biden is close to wrapping up the second year of his presidency. In a mid-July analysis by the Rhodium group, it was found that the U.S.’s greenhouse gas emissions were expected to drop 24%-35% over 2005 levels by 2030.
The Inflation Reduction Act, should it become law, will go a long ways to filling that gap. It’s chock full of measures that on their own would play a significant role bringing down emissions. Most people are familiar with the technology that has become associated with clean energy, such as electric cars and renewable energy. This legislation extends tax credits to produce electricity from solar panels or wind farms. It also adds geothermal technology and advanced nuclear. The tax credits were only good for one or two years in the past. This led to a constant debate over whether Congress should prolong them. Investors couldn’t count on these measures and made it difficult for them to be extended. New legislation extends the credit for 10 years.
Consumers could receive tax credits up to $7500 for purchasing an electric vehicle under the electric vehicle provision. Previously, EV tax incentives had a limit on the amount of people who could get the credit. This program is now available for ten years without any cap.
The legislation contains a variety of carrots that have been advocated by climate activists for many years, in addition to the tax incentives. A fee would be imposed on methane leaks, which penalizes those that leak from the oil or gas infrastructure. It would provide consumers with tax incentives for installing equipment that makes their homes more efficient—think of rooftop solar, heat pumps, and more efficient heating and cooling systems. The U.S. would spend billions to promote clean energy production. More money would be available to support promising companies in climate technology. This list could go on.
It all adds up to enough to keep Biden’s climate targets alive. In the hours after news of the compromise broke, Schumer’s office estimated that the bill would drive down U.S. emissions 40% by 2030. Independent analysts are still crunching the data, but said in the hours after the news broke that they expected Schumer’s estimate to hold up. When combined with executive action, state initiatives, and private sector commitments, Biden’s 50% goal quickly comes within reach.
Some people are not happy with the legislation. Environmental groups have criticised the bill for encouraging oil drilling on federal land and other provisions that allow fossil fuels to continue in the energy mix. And Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has promised that Republicans will do everything in their power to stop it, calling it a package of “job-killing tax hikes, Green New Deal craziness.” It remains to be seen whether Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi can muster the near total Democratic unity in Congress that will be required to pass the bill into law.
One of the key Republican arguments deployed against U.S. climate programs is that action from the U.S.—which is responsible for less than 15% of global emissions—alone cannot meet the world’s climate targets. Of course, this is correct. But, in order to have credibility in pushing other countries to stem their emissions, the U.S. needs to show the world that it’s working to do that at home. The Inflation Reduction Act isn’t the only way the U.S. could convince the rest of the world that it remains serious. But, at this hour, it’s the country’s best shot.
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