Over the past twenty years, progress on climate policy in the United States has been slow. This is especially true at the federal level. In this time, the urgency of calls for climate action has increased. Scientists, activists, and citizens have highlighted the inevitability of climate change-related disasters. Congress and state legislatures have responded to varying degrees.

On the federal level, tax credits for the production and sale of hybrid and electric vehicles (EVs) have been proposed and rolled out in limited formats since the Obama administration. However, rapid growth in EV adoption wasn’t realized until the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, which made consumer tax credits far easier to access.

For some, this route from smaller rollouts to larger-scale implementations is a sign of careful policymaking. Many climate activists disagree. They argue that we can’t wait decades to produce the ambitious policy we need to adapt to and mitigate a looming climate crisis.

Disagreements over climate policy are taking place across the country, including in Congress. Politics has slowed and threatens to halt progress on climate policy in certain legislatures. Examples like EV tax credits indicate that the climate policy of tomorrow is what is being debated and experimented with today. The climate crisis and associated policy battles aren’t going anywhere. In this blog, we take a look at four developing climate policy topics that you should follow to be prepared for what is to come. 

ESG and Climate Reporting

Environmental, social, and governance standards, otherwise known as ESG, are measures used to judge an entity’s impact for investment or regulatory reasons. Progress in this broad policy space has been led by Europe. The European Union (EU) has expanded the ESG requirements that large businesses monitor and report on. In some cases, these requirements improve businesses’ environmental impact, their impact on individuals and communities, and their corporate governance. 

Progress on ESG in the United States has been limited. At the federal level, the Biden administration has proposed a rule that would require publicly traded companies to submit climate reporting. The final rule was delayed amidst industry and partisan backlash and is now on hold due to court challenges.. At the state level, California passed two ESG-related bills in 2023. The new laws require large businesses to report their greenhouse gas emissions and climate-related financial risks. In other states, proposed action has stalled. Any efforts have been overshadowed by a widespread, conservative-led campaign against the use of ESG criteria by state agencies, public institutions, and even private businesses.

However, the EU’s requirements mean that many of the largest American companies must comply with certain ESG laws. The EU’s efforts are expected to spur the development of the infrastructure and practices necessary to make ESG compliance easier in the United States. The benefits of ESG compliance will also become more clear. Further, this reporting may drive consumer demand for ESG information. The will of the consumer can sometimes be a more effective threat than the will of the legislator. 

At the grassroots level, conservative backlash to ESG is seemingly more tied to the “culture wars” than to any policy impact. This momentum is likely to wane as compliance becomes more institutionalized. With that being said, corporate opposition to ESG requirements is likely to remain strong as policies develop. The future of ESG in the United States will be determined by a back-and-forth between government and industry. 

Source: NCSL

Emissions Targets

Since 2020, many state legislatures have enacted emissions reductions targets. This movement represents one of the most successful trends in climate policy thus far. At least sixteen states and Puerto Rico have passed greenhouse gas reduction targets.

Specifics about how these states will reduce emissions to meet their targets are few. However, committing to these goals represents some of the most robust actions many states have taken on the climate crisis.

Some requirements, including those in Colorado and Vermont, have targets beginning in 2025. Many others start in 2030. It will be worth watching how legislators and the public react as the first deadlines approach and pass. In many cases, states are unlikely to meet at least some of their targets. Whether that creates momentum for bolder action or proves the ineffectiveness of these targets remains to be seen. 

Investing in Breakthrough Technologies

The reason for the predicted failures of emissions targets can be traced to one factor. It’s also the reason why emission reduction may not be the most effective policy avenue. Simply put, these measures rely on technology that does not yet exist. New and improved forms of energy production, storage, and utilization are key to any effort to reduce emissions without significantly disrupting how we live our lives.

Hope in the development of new technology that will revolutionize how we respond to climate change is not unfounded. The power of technological progress to transform how we solve problems is proven. We know that, with financial and intellectual investment, development will come.

Some of this innovation and investment will come from the private sector. However, government-sponsored research and development is a crucial component in this puzzle. One opportunity is in carbon capture technology, which refers to the collection, storage, and/or utilization of carbon emissions before they reach the Earth’s atmosphere. Carbon capture technology is already being deployed — the Department of Energy has provided nearly $1.5 billion in funding to over 600 carbon capture research projects.

Technological advancement is crucial in the future fight to reach climate goals. Current research and development is some of the most important work happening today. The government has the resources and the responsibility to drive this innovation. Investment allocation and research outcomes could determine the success of aforementioned emissions goals. Tracking today’s investment decisions may provide insight into tomorrow’s climate solutions.

The Size and Strength of the Regulatory State

Progress on climate policy has been halting. In this context, advocates have pressured federal agencies to take action via rulemaking. Some of the Biden administration’s boldest action on climate change has occurred not via legislation, but rather regulatory channels. Largely led by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), this includes actions aiming to:

  • Target vehicular emissions
  • Strengthen enforcement of the Endangered Species Act
  • Make it more challenging to drill for fossil fuels on government land

In Congress, Republicans have signaled their desire to reverse many of these rules should they gain a large enough majority. If elected, Donald Trump has signaled that his administration would reverse the work of the Biden administration.

In recent years, the Supreme Court has also limited the scope of agency action on climate policy. The Court’s 2021 ruling in West Virginia v. EPA is one example of such limitations. The ruling restricted the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, dampening hopes that climate goals could be achieved through regulatory action.

It isn’t getting any easier to pass bold climate action through Congress. Given this, the Biden administration hasn’t given up on using rulemaking to achieve its goals. In fact, federal agencies have been rushing to finalize a rule that would prevent a new administration from easily reversing any prior action via the Congressional Review Act.

The types of climate policy passed over the next few decades will be crucial in our efforts to mitigate the climate crisis. But how that policy is passed will also be important to follow. Those looking to affect change have much to learn about what has and hasn’t worked over the past twenty years. Strategic innovation in policymaking will be necessary to achieve success.

The Future of Climate Policy with Plural

We can’t predict the future. Any assessment of what will happen in the future of climate policy should be taken with a grain of salt. However, we can use history to identify the topics, policies, and strategies to watch out for. Legislative intelligence tools like Plural allow for real-time identification and monitoring of these trends. With Plural, you’ll be on the forefront of what’s to come. This includes:

  • Accessing superior public policy data 
  • Being the first to know about new bills and changes in bill status
  • Streamlining your day with seamless organization features
  • Harnessing the power of time-saving AI tools to gain insights into individual bills and the entire legislative landscape
  • Keeping everyone on the same page with internal collaboration and external reporting all in one place

More Climate Policy Resources