Now that the U.S. midterm elections are behind us, it’s time for elected leaders to put the planet over party and return to the work of fighting climate change.
Yes, there are many reasons to celebrate the accomplishments of the past few years: the Energy Act of 2020 and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021 were both approved with strong bipartisan support. And this year, Congress approved the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), the single-largest climate investment in U.S. history—by far—with $369 billion in renewable energy, zero carbon transportation, clean manufacturing, community resilience, and natural climate solutions.
The administration’s decision to renew and strengthen the pledges made in the Paris Agreement, and the new steps announced this month at the UN climate conference in Egypt, confirm the U.S. commitment to climate leadership.
Congress has backed that U.S. leadership through significant resources for reducing carbon pollution. Various independent analysts estimate that when fully implemented, the IRA will put the United States on a path to emissions levels 40 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, a giant leap toward meeting the nation’s goals.
Much work remains, however, to guarantee that the promises made in the IRA are fulfilled by ensuring that the approved funding reaches the appropriate programs on the ground and by augmenting those resources at the state level. This will require coordination with state, local, and tribal governments, efficient and integrated agency action, and focused attention by leadership to ensure that the promised investments and incentives are effective and used as intended.
The need to tackle the challenges facing our natural world was reflected in last week’s midterm elections. At the state, county, and local levels, voters approved $7 billion for conservation and other programs. The strong votes for these programs, combined with the federal legislation signed in recent years, signal a growing, national shift toward action that must not stop.
We need to be prepared to make choices quickly to avoid the most devastating impacts of climate change. Civic engagement and smart policy are more important than ever, because these choices will require difficult tradeoffs. The Nature Conservancy is ready to engage with policy makers at national, state and local levels to help bring the best science, stakeholders, and conservation expertise to the table to evaluate those tradeoffs and make the best and most resilient choices that can mitigate climate change, respect and protect communities (especially communities of color, who have borne the brunt of energy development for generations) and protect nature and its biodiversity.
The climate crisis is far from over. Greenhouse gas emissions worldwide are on the rise again, after a temporary lull caused by the pandemic-fueled global economic downturn. The United States remains the second largest emitter of carbon pollution in the world and, historically, the largest cumulative emitter by far. Record floods, deadly hurricanes, extended droughts, and devastating wildfires are daily reminders of the cost of the world’s delay in taking climate change seriously.
Even if all the potential of the IRA is realized, we will still fall short of the goals the United States set for reducing emissions by 50-52 percent by 2030. This gap can be reduced by state and local actions, fueled by the current investments and incentives from Congress and inspired by the states that have already taken action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mandate 100 percent clean energy. But Congress and the administration also must stay on task to make sure that the country achieves these goals.
Complacency is not an option. Science tells us that to avoid the most catastrophic impacts of climate change, we need to keep global temperatures below a 1.5-degree rise from pre-industrial levels. Great progress has been made toward ensuring that the United States is a leader in making this happen. But there is still much work to be done at all levels of government, and with all stakeholders engaged and at the table.