Biden’s EPA awards $20bn for climate projects, court rules national climate action is a human rights issue, and more

By on 16/04/2024 | Updated on 16/04/2024

Welcome to this month’s Global Government Forum Sustainability Monitor, bringing you the latest government-related news on this topic from around the world.

We want these newsletters to provide insight on the work of government and we always want to hear from you, so please get in touch to let us know about your challenges and how you’re addressing them.

Sarah Wray
Editor, Global Government Forum

In this edition:

  • The role of innovation in climate action
  • Biden’s EPA awards $20bn for first ‘national climate financing network’
  • Research finds national climate laws are working
  • Webinar: An equitable path to net zero
  • Landmark ruling finds that Switzerland’s inadequate climate action violated human rights
  • Webinar: Safeguarding future generations

The role of innovation in climate action

At the recent Global Government Forum Innovation event in London, a panel of experts discussed sustainability in government. They noted that while innovation is important, we should not wait for magic fixes – many of the most impactful solutions are already with us today.

Emissions first: Halla Sigrun Sigurdardottir, director general in the Department of Senior Management at Iceland’s Ministry of the Environment, Energy and Climate, highlighted innovations such as the ability for CO2 to be captured directly from the atmosphere and turned into stone underground. However, she stressed: “I think it’s very important that we stick to the fact that we need to cut emissions first and then obviously we need some solutions as well.”  She added that solutions need to be “scientifically proven” before they are adopted at scale.

UK reaches mid-point milestone: Recent provisional data revealed that the UK’s greenhouse emissions have been cut by 53% compared to 1990, or 50% when including emissions from international aviation and shipping. The data from the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero shows that electricity supply and homes have seen big declines in emissions, as the country shifts to renewable energy sources.

Deployment will spur innovation: Speaking on the panel, Jeremy Pocklington, permanent secretary in the UK’s Department for Energy Security and Net Zero, said: “Our primary focus should be on deployment of existing technologies,” pointing out that the systems for large-scale low carbon electricity, the hydrogen economy and carbon capture take a long time to build.

“But deployment itself will lead to innovation,” he said, highlighting the example of developments in efficiency and optimisation for renewables.

Don’t stop innovating: It’s still important to “keep going” with innovation, Pocklington said, highlighting the potential for new materials and the use of AI for energy management.

One by one: Barbados’ goal is to be net zero by 2030. “We will go sector by sector” starting with the largest emitters, said Donna Cadogan, head of the public service and cabinet secretary, Barbados. For example, to tackle transport emissions, Barbados has 59 electric buses with more on order. A ‘sustainable development bus’ sponsored by the UN also provides mobile information on climate change.

Biden’s EPA awards $20bn for first ‘national climate financing network’

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced the investment of $20bn for community development banks and nonprofits to deliver climate and clean energy projects across America, particularly in disadvantaged communities.

The announcement was made by vice president Kamala Harris and EPA administrator Michael Regan.

Funding source: The funding was made available through the $27bn Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund created under the Inflation Reduction Act in 2022. Three organisations were selected to administer the $14bn National Clean Investment Fund and five for the $6bn Clean Communities Investment Accelerator.

Finance network: The EPA said the funding will create a “national clean financing network” and mobilise private capital, while also reducing energy costs, improving public health and creating good jobs.

Collective action: According to the EPA, the selected applicants — Climate United Fund, Coalition for Green Capital, Power Forward Communities, Opportunity Finance Network, Inclusiv, Justice Climate Fund, Appalachian Community Capital, and Native CDFI Network — are collectively expected to reduce or avoid up to 40 million metric tons of climate pollution per year. They are expected to mobilise almost $7 of private capital for every $1 of federal funds and dedicate over $14bn of capital toward low-income and disadvantaged communities.

Transformational investments: Michael Regan, EPA administrator, said: “The selectees announced today will deliver transformational investments for American communities, businesses and families and unleash tens of thousands of clean technology projects like putting solar on small businesses, electrifying affordable housing, providing EV loans for young families, and countless others. That translates to good-paying jobs, energy bill savings and cleaner air, all while delivering on President Biden’s historic agenda to combat climate change.”

Pushback: Some Republicans in Congress have called it a “slush fund” and voiced concern over accountability and transparency on how the money will be used. House Republicans passed a bill last month to repeal the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund and other parts of the president’s climate agenda.

Research finds national climate laws are working

‘Climate framework laws’, which provide an overarching legal basis for climate action in a country, have had a positive impact in Germany, Ireland and New Zealand, according to a recent report published by the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics and Political Science. 

Stronger governance: The authors conducted over 70 expert interviews with legislators, political advisors, civil society, media and other stakeholders. In all three case study countries most interviewees thought that the framework established by their respective laws has strengthened political focus on climate concerns. Overall, 67% of interviewees felt that the laws had positively impacted climate governance, strengthening coordination and whole-of-government responses to the climate crisis and making governments more accountable for climate action, while 58% felt the laws had a positive impact on political debate. However, only 40% thought they had a positive impact on the wider population.    

Political will: Across all three countries, interviewees felt that, to some extent, the climate law can help protect against significant backsliding on long-term targets, but ultimately, the legislation alone cannot guarantee measures to meet such targets without sustained political will. 

In the report the authors warn that “shortcomings in the legislative design and changes in the political commitment to climate action can weaken the effectiveness of climate legislation.”  

They also state that “climate laws can contribute indirectly to enhancing public awareness and support for climate action, but this requires explicit provisions on public participation and targeted communication and engagement efforts.”  

State of play: Nearly 60 countries around the world have introduced climate change framework laws, which establish the strategic direction for national climate change policy and often set up institutional arrangements for the countries’ climate policy responses.

Building blocks: Alina Averchenkova, distinguished policy fellow at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, said: “Our study clearly shows that, when designed well, a climate law can be an effective tool to tackle the core climate governance challenges, political short-termism, piecemeal policy planning, and weak accountability for implementation.  

“To be effective in this, the laws should include key building blocks, such as a long-term net zero target, interim targets or carbon budgets, and requirements for emission reductions plans, regular reporting, assessment and independent reviews of progress.”  

Webinar: An equitable path to net zero – economic transformations and just transitions

June 27, 2024: Register now

As part of the Global Government Leaders Forum, during this webinar a panel of civil servants will explore how governments can build and maintain public support for the green transition. It will address issues such as how to enable a green transition while tackling poverty, how workforces and businesses in carbon-intensive industries can be supported to find new forms of income, and how public bodies can decarbonise their own operations.

Landmark ruling finds that Switzerland’s inadequate climate action violated human rights

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that the Swiss government had violated human rights by failing to do enough to combat climate change. The decision marks the first time an international court has ruled on climate change as a human rights issue.

The case: KlimaSeniorinnen, a group of over 2,000 older Swiss women, argued that their age and gender made them particularly vulnerable to the effects of heatwaves linked to climate change and that the Swiss government is not taking sufficient action to mitigate the effects of global warming.

The judgement: In a binding ruling, the Court found that Switzerland had “failed to comply with its duties under the [European Convention on Human Rights] concerning climate change” and that it had violated the right to respect for private and family life.

Too little too late: The ruling also found that there had been “critical gaps” in the country’s policies to tackle climate change including failing to quantify national limits on greenhouse gas emissions and failing to meet its past greenhouse gas emission reduction targets by not acting “in time and in an appropriate way” to implement climate measures.

Cases rejected: The court threw out a former French mayor’s case against France because he no longer lives in Grande Synthe where he was leader, or in France for the moment. It also did not admit a case by a group of Portuguese young people against 32 European countries, saying they could not bring cases against countries other than Portugal and that they had not pursued legal avenues in Portugal first.

Only the beginning: Johan Rockström, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research PIK, said: “These rulings are not just about one state. They mark the first time an international court has ruled on climate change as a human rights issue, and will have important implications for all politicians and national leaders in particular.”

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg has stated: “This is only the beginning of climate litigation.”

Swiss authorities have said they will analyse the extensive judgement and consider future measures.

Webinar: Safeguarding future generations

October 17 2024: Register now

This webinar will discuss the key elements government departments need to consider to make sure they are preparing for the future, and that policymaking can be developed to incorporate the interests of future generations.

Thanks for reading this newsletter and keep an eye out for next month’s edition. If you have a story to share, please send it to our editorial team.

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