The narrative of the global climate emergency becomes more dramatic each year. In 2021 alone, climate-driven drought, heat waves, floods and wildfires caused more than $100 billion in damage across the United States. Much of the impact of climate events is felt most significantly by low-income communities that are already vulnerable and lack the economic resilience to withstand crises.
The Biden Administration has made significant commitments to creating a more sustainable economy, including reducing U.S. emissions by 50-52 percent from 2005 by 2030 and facilitating the shift to a net-zero economy by 2050. To meet these commitments, the U.S. needs to fortify its infrastructure, create well-paid jobs that help to lift millions of Americans out of poverty and support technologies and programs that will reduce emissions while embracing innovation and boosting the American economy. That’s no small order.
The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) and the Build Back Better Act are complementary efforts to meet all these requirements. While each Act contains billions of dollars in funding, they would have their strongest impact if enacted together. While IIJA was passed in November 2021 with bipartisan support, Build Back Better is, as of the time of publication, in significant peril because of a lack of bipartisan support.
What Funding Is in the Acts?
IIJA contains billions of dollars in funding to support infrastructure that is resilient in the face of global climate change, including clean energy, electric vehicles and drinking water. Here is a summary of a few of the items in IIJA.
- $66 billion for modernizing rail and public transport.
- $7.5 billion for charging stations for electric vehicles.
- $1 billion for clean school buses.
- $17 billion for port infrastructure and $25 billion for airports.
- $50 billion to make communities and infrastructure more resilient against climate change.
- $55 billion to expand access to clean drinking water.
- $20 billion to clean up legacy pollution from mines and wells.
- $65 billion to upgrade the national power infrastructure.
The Build Back Better Act represents the largest single investment in clean energy and carbon reduction in American history. It includes the following:
- $50 million for EPA grants to reduce air pollution at low-income schools.
- $40 billion in loans to support commercial deployment of clean energy technologies. · $2 billion in grants to make affordable housing efficient and sustainable.
- $975 million to support emerging technology that contributes to sustainability and environmental programs.
While it’s likely Build Back Better won’t pass in its current form, significant parts of it will probably end up in other funding packages or issued as executive orders, which means much of this funding will eventually end up having an impact on creating more resilient and sustainable infrastructure across the U.S.
Data Becomes Even More Important
With increased global attention on sustainability initiatives, environmental data and reporting frameworks are going to become part of everyday life for all organizations. There are several ESG (environmental, social and governance) frameworks that organizations can use to meet different requirements, including the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), Climate Disclosures Standards Board (CDSB) and Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB). To help businesses overcome the frustration of using multiple reporting frameworks, several organizations managing these frameworks have announced their intention of a shared vision for an integrated and comprehensive reporting system that meets multiple reporting requirements while also providing standards for data taxonomies to produce structured information.
IIJA and Build Back Better exemplify the importance of environmental and sustainability initiatives for the global community. With the cost of climate change increasingly measured in both dollars and lives lost, it is imperative that governments provide money to the programs that need it, and that organizations fulfill their obligations to embrace the principles of ESG. Time will tell what Build Back Better will become, but we can be certain that sustainability initiatives are here to stay