The Climate Emergency Act of 2021 by Hank Tsekerides

Earlier this year, Congress introduced a piece of legislation that would mandate the declaration of a climate emergency in the United States. The Climate Emergency Act of 2021 would require president Biden to utilize the National Emergencies Act to instate a national climate emergency. The climate crisis poses an extreme threat to the well-being of our nation and requires a serious response. As such, Congress ought to pass the Climate Emergency Act (CEA).

A bill like this is long overdue. The International Panel on Climate Change has identified that rising concentrations of greenhouse gases are contributing to a rise in the average global temperature, and the increase in emissions is mainly due to anthropogenic activities1. Climate change has caused a rise in sea levels and ocean temperatures, a decrease in air quality, and an increase in the frequency and severity of extreme weather events. As stated in the 2018 National Climate Assessment, climate change has and will continue to adversely affect infrastructure, natural resources, and agricultural systems, as well as the health, safety, and quality of life of all Americans2.

With over 97% of the scientific community supporting the notion of human-caused global warming, it’s time for our nation to take action. The CEA’s main sponsors (Earl Blumenauer, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Bernie Sanders) recognize that the United States ought to be a world leader in climate action, but our current response has been quite lackluster. In fact, thirty-eight other countries have already declared a climate emergency3. Representative Blumenauer states the CEA will help combat climate change by catalyzing investments in climate change mitigation and resiliency projects, such as the modernization of American infrastructure, improvements to our agricultural and energy systems, or the protection of public lands4. Passing the CEA would signal to other nations that the US is taking the issue of climate change seriously, but the CEA would also open up powers to the president that would help the US adequately mitigate global warming.

Passing the CEA would make the declaration of a climate emergency more than a performative action. The main purpose of the CEA is to direct the president to declare an official national climate emergency under the National Emergencies Act (NEA). The NEA affords the president access to more than 100 additional executive powers that he can utilize to address climate change. The NEA would open up ways to shift funding between certain government programs, and the president could theoretically use this power to re-direct funds toward the aforementioned climate-change mitigation and resiliency projects.

The NEA also permits the use of the Defense Production Act (DPA), which could be used to provide businesses with government funding to manufacture clean energy technologies. The DPA would allow the government to declare eminent domain over a company, where the government would pay the same market value for a company to produce a different product5. The use of the DPA would expedite the production of critical technologies for renewable energy development.

The president may also use the NEA to enact trade restrictions on items that contribute to the rise in average global temperatures. For example, trade limitations could be placed on environmentally damaging items such as nitrous oxide and crude oil, or sanctions can be placed on products that come from the illegally deforested Amazon region6. The execution of these action items will directly contribute to the international goal of reducing global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, the level of warming that scientists have determined will limit the severity of climate change repercussions such as a rise in sea levels, loss of biodiversity, and the increase of extreme weather events7. Our nation’s actions will likely be an impetus for further positive change within the United States and abroad.

Though the CEA will help president Biden achieve his climate change goals, there has been staunch opposition to the CEA within the halls of Congress and the media. The NEA does not have specific guidelines on what issues should be labeled as an emergency, and many disagree with calling climate change an “emergency” due to the fact that an emergency must be unexpected and sudden8. Their argument is that extreme weather events or terrorist attacks should be classified as emergencies, not climate change. If Biden is allowed to declare climate change as a national emergency, some fear that this will set a precedent for presidents to bypass Congressional legislation to achieve their agenda. They believe that passing the CEA and utilizing the NEA for the climate crisis is an abuse of power that would weaken our democratic process.

However, though there is scientific consensus on the dangers of climate change, no one is quite sure when the point of no return will be9. The more we delay action on climate change, the more potential there is to reach a global tipping point where the cascading effects of climate change have damaged the planet beyond repair. Climate scientists have postulated a different definition for an emergency, a situation with risk and urgency, and concluded that the “risk and urgency of the [climate change] situation is acute”10. This illustrates the necessity for the declaration of a national climate emergency. Additionally, with political polarization at an all-time high11, bypassing Congress to begin to address climate change is a necessary action. That being said, the bill does not entirely overstep Congress, as the CEA contains a clause that mandates president Biden to submit an annual report to Congress that describes the actions he has taken to mitigate climate change using the CEA. Congress can then assess the effectiveness and validity of these actions.

Ideally, Congress would be able to halt their political divisiveness to pass thorough climate legislation, but unfortunately the last instance of this was amendments to the Clean Air Act in 199012. The historical lack of Congressional action on climate change coupled with the severity of the national and global ramifications of climate change clearly warrant the passing of the Climate Emergency Act of 2021.



[1] International Panel on Climate Change . “Global Warming of 1.5 ºC.” Special Report : Global Warming of 1.5 ºC, 8 Oct. 2018,

[2] United States, Congress, U.S. House. 117th Congress. H.R. 794, National Climate Emergency Act of 2021. Version 1, Feb. 4, 2021.

[3] Osaka, Shannon. “Chuck Schumer Wants Biden to Declare a ‘Climate Emergency.’ What Does That Mean?” Grist, 25 Jan. 2021, climate-emergency-under-president-biden-should-the-us-be-next/.

[4] “Blumenauer, Ocasio-Cortez, and Sanders Introduce Legislation to Mandate National Climate Emergency Declaration.” Congressman Earl Blumenauer, 4 Feb. 2020,

[5] Lacey, Stephen. “How a ‘Climate Emergency’ Could Harness Wartime Powers for the Energy Transition.” Greentech Media, Greentech Media, 12 Feb. 2021,

[5] Nevitt, Mark. “Is Climate Change a National Emergency?” Just Security, 25 Feb. 2021,

[6] Buis, Alan. “A Degree of Concern: Why Global Temperatures Matter – Climate Change: Vital Signs of the Planet.” NASA, NASA, 12 Oct. 2020,,irreversible%20loss%20of%20stored%20carbon.

[7] Goitein, Elizabeth. “Perspective | Declaring Climate Change an ‘Emergency’ Won’t Help Biden Fight It.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 29 Jan. 2021,

[8] Nevitt, Mark. “Is Climate Change a National Emergency?” Just Security, 25 Feb. 2021,

[9] Lenton, Timothy M., et al. “Climate Tipping Points – Too Risky to Bet Against.” Nature News, Nature Publishing Group, 27 Nov. 2019,

[10] Kilgore, Ed. “Partisan Polarization Reaching Record Levels.” Intelligencer, Intelligencer, 23 Jan. 2020,

[11] Nevitt, Mark. “Is Climate Change a National Emergency?” Just Security, 25 Feb. 2021,









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