Nature: Scientists welcome ‘enormous’ US climate bill — but call for stronger action.
Several US agencies, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Department of Energy (DOE), will see a significant influx of cash from a massive climate and tax bill that US President Joe Biden signed on 16 August. Scientists around the world welcome the legislation, called the Inflation Reduction Act, which pledges US$369 billion in climate investments over the next decade — while acknowledging that more work is needed to counter global warming.
The legislation would cut US greenhouse-gas emissions by about 30–40% below 2005 levels by 2030, scientists estimate, bringing the country closer to delivering on its pledge of a 50% reduction, which 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 Earth’s atmosphere, is on board to address climate change, scientists say.
After former president Donald Trump took steps away from climate action, “it returns the US to a position of leadership”, says Michael Mann, a climate scientist at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. “It helps create a global climate for action.”
Money for climate
The Inflation Reduction Act allocates around $490 million for climate and weather forecasting at NOAA, including $50 million for climate research grants; $190 million for buying high-performance computing equipment; and $100 million for purchasing hurricane-observing aircraft.
Through a competitive grant programme, it also funds research into eco-friendly jet fuel, thereby curbing emissions from air travel. And it provides $60 billion in grants and tax credits for clean-energy investments and projects to clean up pollution 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 shifting to greener power sources, such as solar, says Brian O’Callaghan, an economist at the University of Oxford, UK. That’s about 13% of today’s renewable-energy market. “The scale of this bill is enormous, particularly on energy,” O’Callaghan says.
More than $60 billion is slated to go to US manufacturing of clean-energy technologies, such as solar panels and electric vehicles, and billions more are included in tax credits for decarbonization, clean-vehicle purchases and household-level efficiency improvements — making this the largest climate investment in US history.
Making good on promises
Despite their excitement over the legislation, scientists say the United States must do more. Even if all nations hit their climate targets, the global temperature will rise above the 1.5 °C mark, says Roxy Matthew Koll, a climate scientist at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology in Pune.
Mohamed Adow, a climate-policy expert at Power Shift Africa, a think tank based in Nairobi, says the United States needs to take responsibility for its historical emissions and help to deliver the climate finance promised to poorer nations in the Paris accord. Rich nations pledged to give $100 billion a year until 2025 to poorer ones, but the money has not materialized. “That’s what we need to see for a real jump in progress on the global stage,” he says.
Ideally, poorer nations, which will be most affected by global warming, would benefit from this enormous US investment, researchers say. For that to happen, the Biden administration needs to craft foreign policy that allows for knowledge sharing, says Shayak Sengupta, an energy-policy researcher at the Observer Research Foundation America, a Washington DC-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 correctly.”
The Inflation Reduction Act isn’t perfect, Mann says. But rather than carping on the limitations, critics should take the win and encourage people to vote in the US midterm elections in November, he adds. Crucial seats in the US Senate and House of Representatives will be up for grabs. “My hope is that there will be an even larger majority of climate-forward legislators in Congress after the midterm elections — a large enough majority that we can pass legislation with more stringent measures.”