Late last week, the U.S. Congress passed landmark climate legislation in the form of the Inflation Reduction Act. This legislation will speed up deployment of clean energy and lower US carbon emissions by about 40 percent from 2005 levels, closing two-thirds of the remaining gap between current policies and the US climate target of a 50 percent reduction in emissions by 2030. The legislation has multiple implications for U.S. climate security going forward—including helping prevent the worst security outcomes of unchecked emissions, bolstering U.S. credibility as it pushes other countries to reduce emissions, improving U.S. energy reliability and resilience, and complementing Department of Defense efforts to curb its own emissions in hard to decarbonize sectors.
In a 2020 report, A Security Threat Assessment of Climate Change, the Center for Climate and Security concluded that cutting emissions is critical to preventing catastrophic security outcomes in the second half of the century. As the report noted, “If global emissions are not reigned in, the world will experience destabilizing changes in both the near and medium-to-long terms which pose significant threats to security environments, infrastructure, and institutions.” The report found that such destabilizing changes would include likely conflict over diminished water resources in the Middle East, devastating sea level rise that threatens megacities and key infrastructure in the Indo-Pacific, and significant cross-border migration and political instability due to agriculture collapse in Central America. Of course, emissions cuts by the United States alone are not enough to keep the world to 1.5 degrees warming from pre-industrial temperatures, but by doing its part, Washington sends a strong signal to other countries that it is serious about following through on its commitments and tackling the threat.
Perhaps more importantly, the bill’s investments in clean energy will, over time, help lower prices of clean energy technologies, and make it more affordable for countries around the world to transition away from fossil fuels. The bill includes $30 billion in tax credits aimed at ramping up the production of solar panels, wind turbines, batteries and critical minerals processing. The United States should prioritize sharing the technologies and innovations that come from these investments with allies and partners, including through climate finance grants to developing countries. Ensuring other countries can affordably access the clean energy innovations derived from these investments strengthens the U.S. position as the partner of choice, particularly as it competes for influence and geopolitical position with China.
In addition to strengthening the U.S. position on the world stage, the bill ensures greater energy resilience for the homeland as well. The Russian invasion of Ukraine earlier this year has starkly demonstrated the pitfalls of continued fossil fuel reliance, as countries that relied on Russian oil and gas have struggled to turn to alternative sources at a reasonable cost. The resultant turmoil in global markets contributed to rising gas prices in the United States. Investments in domestic clean energy production today provide a buffer against such situations in the future, in addition to preventing the worst climate hazards. The bill’s invocation of the Defense Production Act to fund $500 million in domestic development of critical minerals and the deployment of heat pumps is one example of the type of action needed to ensure domestic energy and climate resilience.
Finally, many of the investments in the bill will complement and support the Department of Defense’s decarbonization efforts, particularly those focused on the hardest to decarbonize industries like cement, steel and aviation. The bill provides grants and tax credits to reduce emissions from industrial manufacturing processes, including almost $6 billion for a new Advanced Industrial Facilities Deployment Program to reduce emissions from the largest industrial emitters like chemical, steel and cement plants. It also creates a new tax credit for sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) and commits $300 million to research and development grants toward developing new SAF or more fuel efficient aircraft. Over half of the emissions from the US Department of Defense come from aviation, so progress in this area would help the US military meet its decarbonization goals.
Overall, the IRA is a win not only for tackling climate change, but also for U.S. national security. Reducing U.S. emissions—and making it easier for other countries to do so—makes Americans safer and more secure. This legislation is an important step forward and sets the stage for further action in years to come.