What to expect for the climate movement in 2023

The year 2022 was full of ups and downs for the climate movement. At times, it felt like the fossil fuel industry and other polluter interests might once again succeed in derailing major progress toward the goal of securing a livable future. But climate activists and other progressive movements proved more resilient than many observers predicted, and as a result we saw some leaps forward that could be truly game-changing. The question now is, how to build on the sometimes-unexpected victories we won in 2022? Our work isn’t over by any means, and how we continue forward momentum into 2023 could go a long way toward determining whether the would manages to avoid truly catastrophic levels of climate change. Below are some of the major opportunities for the climate movement this year to be aware of:

Implementing the Inflation Reduction Act. In 2022, for the first time, the United States Congress passed major, national climate legislation in the form of a collection of policies included in the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). This was a hard-won victory that wouldn’t have been possible without years of organizing that led up to it. Although the IRA isn’t as strong as it should be, the U.S. finally has something resembling a comprehensive, Congressionally mandated plan to reduce carbon emissions across most sectors of the economy. Now we have to make sure the law is implemented well.

One of the truly exciting things for the U.S. climate movement now is that while our work isn’t anywhere near over, going forward the challenges ahead will more closely resemble those of our European colleagues, who are trying to make governments follow through on and strengthen existing climate commitments rather than just commit to doing something in the first place. To make the IRA as effective as possible, we must ensure decision makers at the federal, state, and local levels treat the equitable distribution of funds for clean energy as an urgent priority. Also be prepared to fend off attacks from the fossil fuel industry and conservative lawmakers, who would like to prevent the law from having its intended effect.

Pass state legislation. By far the most progressive climate policies in the United States have been passed at the state and local levels–and 2022 saw progress in this area, with new victories in California, Rhode Island, and elsewhere. But results from November’s elections mean we have opportunities to pass significant new legislation in states where this would have seemed impossible just a short while ago. The state legislatures in Michigan and Minnesota flipped blue in November, which is significant because the Democratic Party, for all its imperfections, is the only major party in this country interested in climate action. Massachusetts and Maryland saw their governorships go blue, so expect to see a renewed focus on climate policy there, too. All four of these states will be ones to watch as activists attempt to push new climate and clean energy bills through state houses this year.

Keep attacking the fossil fuel industry. Last fall, I reported on one of the most exciting new climate organizations I’m aware of: Fossil Free Research. The goal of this campaign is to build on momentum from the fossil fuel divestment movement, which has succeeded in badly tarnishing the coal, oil, and gas industry’s public image. By persuading universities to stop accepting research money from fossil fuel companies, Fossil Free Research hopes to further isolate the industry and make it even more of a social and political pariah. This is a great project to get involved in–especially if you’re a young person attending a higher education institution that currently has research partnerships with the fossil fuel industry.

Solidify the connection between climate and biodiversity. In December, almost 200 countries approved the Kunming-Montreal Biodiversity Framework, an agreement to protect 30% of Earth’s land and water for biodiversity by 2030. The agreement isn’t as ambitious as it should be, and the United States is not an official participant (this is because the U.S. has not ratified the international Convention on Biodiversity). However, it’s an unprecedented effort to curb species extinction on a global scale–and the Biden administration has set its own conservation goals that are similar to those agreed on in the international framework. And while it isn’t officially a climate agreement, protecting forests, wetlands, and other habitats from degradation will have major consequences for the climate.

As with the IRA, the extent to which the Kunming-Montreal Framework is effective will depend to a large degree on how it is implemented and whether it can be used a starting point to build on with future initiatives. Climate activists can help by working to make sure the connection between biodiversity and a planet that’s habitable for humanity stays squarely in the public spotlight.

Shifting fossil fuel finance. For years, U.S. and international climate activists have been pushing banks, insurers, and other financial institutions to stop forking out money to companies whose business model depends on burning fossil fuels–and last year saw some significant progress in this area, too, including a growing list of companies that are abandoning or ruling out involvement with the East Africa Crude Oil pipeline. I wrote this piece about the inspiring activists who are working to stop this massive fossil fuel project, both in Africa and around the globe. With more and more governments, institutions, and lenders aligning themselves against fossil fuels, it will be interesting to see what other financial players abandon coal, oil, and gas in 2023.

Of course, these are just a few of the areas where the climate movement has the opportunity to build forward momentum in 2023, but they represent some of the most exciting projects and campaigns to watch. Actually, scratch that–the goal for all of us who care about the climate in 2023 should be to not just watch the crucial developments playing out in real time, but get involved with them!

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