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Strong US infrastructure bill needed to move climate goals forward: experts

Highlights

Striking number of big corporations support plan

Solid policies needed to meet corporate targets

In the wake of the US climate summit, the next steps will be pushing federal policymakers to design a comprehensive infrastructure bill that can help companies meet emissions reduction targets while spurring research and development, experts said April 26.

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The most significant thing to come out of the climate summit held by the White House on April 22 and 23 was the optimistic framing about how climate change mitigation solutions can lead to job creation, domestic economic growth and better environmental quality, Jonathan Pershing, senior advisor to the special presidential envoy for climate at the US Department of State, said during a webinar hosted by the Society of Environmental Journalists.

"This was a framing around 'here is a crisis' but 'here is a pathway to success as we deal with it,'" Pershing said.

Significant investments in R&D were made under the Obama administration that have led to cost declines for renewable energy and battery storage technology, and "I am quite optimistic the same will happen now," he said, adding that it was "remarkable" to see companies and financial institutions at the table saying policies put in place now will be critical to meeting emissions reduction goals over the next decade.

President Biden said at the summit, which was attended by 40 heads of state, that the US will target reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 50% to 52% percent by 2030 compared to 2005 levels as the country's Nationally Determined Contribution under the Paris climate agreement.

Asked about what this means for US businesses, Anne Kelly, vice president of government relations at non-profit sustainability organization Ceres, said it was "a big deal to expose yourself as a company supporting the NDC."

"To me it was striking this number of companies and these particular companies like Walmart, Target, GM and Ford put themselves out there to support the Biden admin," Kelly said. Next comes "working Capitol Hill and we are going to be taking many of these companies to Capitol Hill" in May to call for the infrastructure bill, she said.

"I'm really seeing companies saying if we don't get the rules right" these climate goals will not be met, Kelly said, adding that companies are ready to get behind infrastructure, supporting the clean energy sector, methane standards and fuel economy standards.

She also noted that Apple, Salesforce, and HP recently endorsed mandatory climate risk disclosure.

Front-line communities

Environmental justice is an important part of addressing climate change, which cannot leave out communities that are on the front lines of climate change impacts like sea level rise, said Elizabeth Yeampierre, executive director at New York based community organization UPROSE.

"I don't want to be put in the back of the climate bus," she said.

Pershing agreed saying the Biden climate agenda cannot succeed without local community-level support, but that grassroots organizing alone will not be sufficient. There needs to be other pressure that can get banks and companies to invest differently, he said.

There are different infrastructure challenges depending on where in the US front-line communities are located, which means "we can't have cookie-cutter solutions," Yeampierre said. For example, Kentucky and West Virginia are moving away from coal, which is positive from a climate standpoint, but that means support for transitioning jobs into other sectors is needed, she said.

Regarding companies keeping their climate promises, Kelly said without the right rules in place, the market will not do it on its own. "I think we are going to see corporate support for a suite of policies that will help them meet their climate targets," like government support to spur R&D, Kelly said.

Companies need solid regulatory and legislative infrastructure to meet their goals, she said.