As the planet’s temperature rises, the climate emergency intensifies a little more each day. Heat waves, wildfires, floods and increasingly frequent and powerful hurricanes are costing billions of dollars and causing unprecedented human migration, fuelling conflicts around the world. Despite the severity of the problem, there is still time for good news. As governments prepare for the upcoming UN Climate Change Conference in Egypt in mid-November, the progress being made to address catastrophic climate change suggests, against all odds, that all is not lost.

In the United States – the world’s largest historical emitter of greenhouse gases – the Senate passed what has been described as the most significant climate legislation in the country’s history. The bill passed through the so-called “reconciliation” mechanism, which allows legislation to pass with 50 votes instead of the usual 60. The vote ended with 51 votes in favour and 50 against, including a tie-breaking vote by US Vice President Kamala Harris.

Once the House of Representatives has passed the bill and President Biden has signed it into law, some $370 billion will be allocated to fund a wide range of programmes aimed at reducing US carbon emissions by 40 per cent by 2030 from 2005 levels. Much of this money will fund tax breaks and incentives to purchase and install renewable energy equipment, such as solar panels and wind turbines, as well as to invest in clean energy use in industry. Up to $60 billion in incentives is planned to bring wind, solar and other renewable energy technologies to poor and marginalised communities that have long been excluded from green energy investment projects.

However, primarily to win the support of West Virginia’s Democratic senator, conservative Joe Manchin, the bill also includes some significant concessions, such as large profits for the fossil fuel industry. Manchin has made a personal fortune worth millions of dollars from his family business related to the coal industry and is the largest recipient of fossil fuel industry donations in the US Congress. One of the concessions Manchin won was a side deal to speed up the issuance of permits for fossil fuel projects, including the controversial Mountain Valley pipeline. If built, the pipeline will transport some 57 million cubic metres of fracked gas through more than 1,000 streams and wetlands in the Appalachian region, including parts of West Virginia.

Indigenous lawyer and activist Tara Houska, founder of the Giniw Collective, told Democracy Now! in an interview: “To encourage investment in renewable energy, they are doubling down on support for the fossil fuel industry. […] In order to get dollars and investment in renewable energy, millions and millions of acres of publicly owned land and water are being given to the fossil fuel industry up front for parallel [oil and gas] projects. That’s a setback for environmental law. And all this to get investment in renewable energy. This is not a solution to combat the climate crisis. Mother Nature doesn’t operate in US dollars.

Brett Hartl, director of government affairs for the environmental group Center for Biological Diversity, called the bill “a suicide climate pact”. Commenting on the 40% reduction in US carbon emissions that the bill is expected to achieve, Robert Weismann, president of Public Citizen, told Democracy Now! “It’s not nearly enough, but it’s a significant step. It’s significant when you consider that it would have been worse to do nothing, which unfortunately was the other alternative available to us.

Meanwhile, in Colombia, the first left-wing president and first left-wing vice-president in the country’s history were inaugurated on Sunday. The president, Gustavo Petro, is a former guerrilla fighter who later served as a senator and mayor of the city of Bogotá. Meanwhile, Francia Márquez made history by becoming Colombia’s first woman of African descent to serve as vice-president. Márquez, a former domestic worker, is a renowned social leader who was awarded the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize in 2018 for her work to organise women in the community of La Toma, in Colombia’s Cauca region, in their fight against illegal gold mining.

An important element of the new government’s policy platform is to accelerate the transition to renewable energy sources and curb Colombia’s heavy dependence on oil and coal extraction.

On the Petro government’s proposal to ban fracking, Enrique Peñalosa, another former mayor of Bogotá, said on Twitter: “[Banning fracking] simply means that oil dollars will be left in the ground, that young Colombians will have fewer opportunities, that there will be fewer public works”. In response, Petro said: “Brother, the problem is not how many dollars are left in the ground if fracking is not done, but how many lives are lost above ground if it is done.

Real change comes from the momentum of powerful grassroots movements. Colombia’s new leaders know this well. In the United States, the role of grassroots movements is often diluted by the army of lobbyists who flood the offices of politicians and government representatives with billions of dollars of anonymous corporate donations to fund their political careers.

Rob Weismann of Public Citizen noted that “[the positive gains included in the new law] would not have been achieved without the national social mobilisation and the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign, which put this issue on the agenda and got it through Congress.

Varshini Prakash, founder of the Sunrise Movement, called for action. In a message on her Twitter account, she posted: “This is not the bill my generation deserves, but it’s the one we can get. It has to pass so we have a chance to fight for a livable world”. He concluded: “We youth leaders are asking members of Congress to pass this bill and get back to work.

The original article can be found here