Another grim climate warning as Democrats reveal budget outline

Most Republicans remain unconvinced the government should spend nearly as much to address climate change as Democrats want

Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., gestures to a map showing increased precipitation related to climate change at a hearing in June. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., gestures to a map showing increased precipitation related to climate change at a hearing in June. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted August 10, 2021 at 7:00am

Environmental advocates on Monday got their hands on two documents they’ve eagerly awaited: the latest United Nations climate report, which provided grim news about the status of a warming planet; and the blueprint for the Democrats’ $3.5 trillion budget resolution, which they’ve been counting on to address the unfolding climate disaster.

It wasn’t clear from the budget documents, which gave Senate committees broad instructions for spending within their jurisdictions and a cap for total spending, how much would be allocated to climate programs. But almost every committee was instructed to include climate-focused programs in their spending proposals.

Meanwhile, the 4,000-page report from the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which noted the especially damaging contribution of methane emissions in warming the planet, provided a warning that Secretary-General António Guterres called a “code red for humanity.”

After their disappointment that the bipartisan infrastructure bill nearing a vote in the Senate did not include as much funding for reducing greenhouse gas emissions as the White House requested in its initial infrastructure proposal, climate advocates cited the IPCC report Monday in urging Congress to use the budget resolution to adequately fund such programs. The budget resolution is unlikely to pass without the support of all 50 Senate Democrats, some of whom have expressed opposition to its priorities.

“The IPCC Report shows unequivocally that we are experiencing the impacts of a hotter planet more acutely, now, than scientists had imagined even one decade ago,” said Josh Freed, senior vice president for the climate and energy program at Third Way, a centrist think tank.

Citing the infrastructure bill by name, he said, “Congress must pass the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and then a robust, bold and pragmatic reconciliation package which will help place the U.S. on the path to the fastest, fairest path to net-zero emissions by midcentury, prepare its workers for a global clean-energy economy, and support future generations.”

The $3.5 trillion budget resolution includes steps and programs to support electric federal vehicles and buildings, provide rebates to electrify and weatherize homes and impose fees on methane emissions and carbon-heavy imports, a summary from Senate Democrats shows.

It also includes funding for a Civilian Climate Corps, a New Deal-styled federal jobs program to rebuild and protect public lands. And it includes funding for a “Clean Electricity Payment Program” — a mechanism to incentivize utilities to generate and sell carbon-free power.

The resolution documents cite support for programs to reduce carbon emissions from agriculture, incentives for the use of clean energy in homes and businesses, and a methane polluter fee.

Methane curbs

Environmental Defense Fund President Fred Krupp said curbing the emissions of methane — which is about 86 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a short time period — could buy time to address the main driver of climate warming: carbon dioxide.

“The report quashes any remaining debate about the urgent need to slash methane pollution, especially from sectors such as oil and gas, where the available reductions are fastest and cheapest,” Krupp said. “When it comes to our overheating planet, every fraction of a degree matters — and there is no faster, more achievable way to slow the rate of warming than by cutting human-caused methane emissions.”

President Joe Biden signed legislation into law in June to reinstate federal rules on methane emissions from oil and gas.

Twelve Republicans in the House and two in the Senate — Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Susan Collins of Maine — voted for that bill.

Most Republican lawmakers remain unconvinced the government should spend nearly as much as Democrats have proposed to address climate change and raise concerns that tough new rules in the U.S. will put domestic firms at a disadvantage to countries with less stringent rules.

“While today’s report highlights the urgency of climate change, we must ensure we approach this issue the right way,” said Rep. Garret Graves, R-La., the ranking member of the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis. “It also highlights the stupidity of pushing flawed policies that only shift higher emissions, economic activity, and jobs from the United States to China, Russia, and other countries."

The Biden administration is expected to announce new rules in the fall to limit methane emission from existing fossil fuel sources, and EPA Administrator Michael Regan has said they will be more aggressive than the rule Congress recently voted to bring back, which dated to the Obama administration.

“The IPCC report puts a fine point on the need to reduce both carbon and methane emissions in the fight against climate change and should serve as clear marching orders for world leaders,” said Sarah Smith of the Clean Air Task Force, a climate advocacy group. “With this report in hand, heads of government must set clear methane targets, domestically, and push for an international agreement to cut methane emissions internationally.”  

In May, a separate U.N. body released a climate report that found human-caused methane emissions could be cut 45 percent within the decade — a step that “would avoid nearly 0.3°C of global warming by 2045” and keep the goals of the Paris climate agreement of 2015 in reach, organizers of the report said.

Inger Andersen, executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme, told reporters Monday that climate change ties into other environmental concerns.

“We must treat climate change as an immediate threat, just as we must treat the connected crises of nature and biodiversity loss, and pollution and waste, as immediate threats,” Andersen said, adding that climate change is accelerating. “Nobody is safe. And it is getting worse faster.”

The IPCC research will take center stage at international climate talks in Glasgow, Scotland, in November, when negotiators are slated to continue discussions on lowering emissions.