This op-ed was originally published in The Hill.
On Aug. 9, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published the first installment of its latest report assessing the state of scientific knowledge about the climate crisis. As United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres put it in a press release, the report is nothing less than “a code red for humanity.”
“The alarm bells are deafening,” Guterres said, “and the evidence is irrefutable: greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel burning and deforestation are choking our planet and putting billions of people at immediate risk.”
The good news is that the science indicates that there is still time to respond by taking drastic and rapid action to shift from fossil fuels to clean, renewable energy and to keep people safe in the face of the dangerous changes in the climate system that have already taken place. That is, we must both prevent further catastrophes and repair the damage that has already been done to people and the planet.
That will be expensive, and a group of senators led by Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) plan to introduce legislation based on the well-established legal and moral principle that those who cause damage should pay for it. The Polluters Pay Climate Fund Act would require fossil fuel companies that are responsible for at least 0.05 percent of total carbon dioxide and methane emissions between Jan.1, 2000, and Dec. 31, 2019, to pay a modest share of the climate damages bill: $500 billion over the next 10 years.
As Van Hollen explained, the legislation would help hold accountable those who are the most responsible for the climate crisis. The 0.05 percent requirement “would limit the total number of payors to the 25-30 biggest polluters, with those who polluted the most paying the most,” he said. The money would be used to help fund climate resiliency and a just transition to clean, renewable energy, including by providing communities with resources to adapt to extreme weather events and other dangers fueled by the climate crisis.