Sustainability Climate Change

What’s at stake for climate change if Build Back Better collapses

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Story at a glance

  • President Biden’s Build Back Better legislation hit a wall over the weekend after Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) said he would not vote for it.
  • That jeopardizes a critical climate package which included tax credits, grants and other policies attempting to lower the country’s greenhouse gas emissions.
  • The bill also would have helped achieve Biden’s previously stated goal of lowering U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 50 to 52 percent by 2030.

As President Biden’s Build Back Better legislation hit a major snag over the weekend, it jeopardizes critical climate change measures desperately needed to keep the planet from warming above 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Climate change initiatives were spread out across different components of Build Back Better (BBB). One of which, the bipartisan infrastructure bill, was signed into law last month and included investments in zero emission vehicles for public transportation, a national network of electric vehicle chargers and establishing a clean energy grid.

However, the latest $1.75 trillion legislation that was part of BBB, and was being negotiated in the Senate, includes a much larger investment in climate change policies, with a $555 billion package that consisted of a variety of different tax credits, grants and other policies that attempt to lower greenhouse gas emissions. 

The bill proposed tax credits for consumers who bought an electric vehicle, lowered costs for installing solar panels in homes, and incentives for businesses to manufacture clean energy technology, like solar panels and wind turbines. It also addressed driving industry away from fossil fuel manufacturing by allowing the steel, cement and aluminum industries to become eligible for certain government loans, tax credits and procurement. 

If passed and signed into law, it would have been the largest clean energy investment in U.S. history.


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However, on Sunday Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) poured cold water on the prospects of BBB, telling Fox News he would be a “no” vote on the bill, meaning Democrats would not have the necessary votes in the Senate to pass the bill to the president’s desk.

That risks losing critical climate change provisions that Biden recently touted while attending global climate summit COP26, where he pledged the U.S. would cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 50 to 52 percent by 2030. That would put the U.S. on track for zeroing out emissions throughout the economy by 2050, which is the deadline scientists have given all global leaders to prevent the earth from warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

The earth has already warmed up in temperature by 1.1 degrees Celsius since preindustrial times. That’s brought deadly heat waves, droughts, wildfires and more while also displacing thousands of people and resulted in massive economic losses. Scientists say these conditions will only worsen if the earth continues to warm above 1.5 degrees Celsius.

John Larsen, director at Rhodium Group, an independent energy research firm, told The Washington Post “without Build Back Better, the 2030 target is certainly still feasible, but it’s going to be a lot harder to reach. In one action, the federal government was going to get halfway there.”

If the White House writes new regulations that encourage utility companies to shift away from fossil fuels while also raising energy efficiency standards, Larsen said it could be possible to accelerate greenhouse gas reductions. 

However, without tax incentives or loans to ease that transition from fossil fuels to clean energy, industry groups will be less likely to accept changes without a fight while also making it easier for a future administration to undo Biden’s rules.

Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) said in a statement after Manchin announced he would not support Biden’s $1.75 trillion infrastructure bill, “the planet doesn’t have the flexibility for anyone to give up. The planet is heating up, and reacting in real time to increases in greenhouse gases by giving us more frequent and severe storms, drought, hurricanes in December, and 100 degree weather in the Arctic.” 

Calls for urgent climate action have been steadily flowing, with the United Nations releasing an Emissions Gap Report that said the world needs to halve annual greenhouse gas emissions in the next eight years in order to avoid catastrophic change to the earth’s climate.

Inger Anderson, executive director of the U.N.’s environment programme, said in the report, “we have eight years to almost halve greenhouse gas emissions: eight years to make the plans, put in place the policies, implement them and ultimately deliver the cuts. The clock is ticking loudly.”

The United States’s role in slowing climate change remains unclear, along with if and how the country will achieve Biden’s initial goal of cutting U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 50 to 52 percent by 2030.


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