Biden Aims to Bridge the Decarbonization Divide With $7 Billion Solar Initiative | –

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Biden Aims to Bridge the Decarbonization Divide With $7 Billion Solar Initiative |

Haley Zaremba

Haley Zaremba is a writer and journalist based in Mexico City. She has extensive experience writing and editing environmental features, travel pieces, local news in the…

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  • Wealthy nations and individuals have greater capacity to transition to clean energy, leaving poorer communities more vulnerable to climate change.
  • Within wealthy nations, disparities exist in access to incentives for green technology adoption, such as rooftop solar panels.
  • President Biden’s $7 billion Solar for All program aims to address the solar wealth gap and create union jobs in communities that need them most.
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On a global level, rich nations have a greater capacity to transition toward clean technologies and leave cheap and abundant fossil fuels in the ground. Nevertheless, the richest countries are also responsible for the lion’s share of greenhouse gas emissions, while the poorest communities are left the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Now, it’s more urgent than ever for all of humanity to jump on the clean energy bandwagon, but that’s much easier for those with the means to adopt often pricey green technologies.

Global leaders have long acknowledged that climate finance for poorer nations is an absolutely essential central tenet of global climate goals. But while the wealthiest nations have made lofty promises to finance the decarbonization trajectories of the poorest nations, so far they have broken those promises. In 2023, the United Nations estimated that funding to address climate disasters in developing nations had fallen several trillion dollars short. “While Western countries have started to mobilize vast sums for their own clean energy transitions,” the Washington Post reported last year, “government officials and other diplomats say poor and vulnerable nations — where the need is often greatest — are being left out.”

But even within wealthy nations where climate financing is more advanced, there are major disparities between who is securing those lines of finance and who is losing out. In England, for example, new research from Cardiff University shows that on the whole, households need greater financial support to transition to clean energy, but that “homeowners living in more affluent areas, who felt more financially secure, were more prepared to consider that households such as theirs might need to contribute towards the cost of retrofitting.” 

Meanwhile, in New York State, homeowners who earn more than $50,000 dollars a year are 2.5 times more likely to have rooftop solar panels than those who earn less, according to a study published last month by researchers from Columbia University and the think tank Win Climate. And while there are tax credits to ease the sticker shock of residential solar, the vast majority of those incentives are going to the wealthy as well. “The overwhelming majority of that money is going to wealthier people, but it’s actually bypassing the people who need it most,” Win Climate’s Juan-Pablo Velez told Gothamist.

Last week President Joe Biden announced a new $7 billion expansion to the Solar for All program that aims to lessen this solar wealth gap on a national level. The initiative provides free or low-cost rooftop solar panels or access to community solar electricity, making residential solar accessible to those who could never otherwise afford it. “Essentially, the programs provide a share in the power provided by a nearby solar facility,” CNET reports.  

“This new Solar for All program means that 900,000 households will have solar on the rooftops for the first time, and soon,” President Joe Biden said on Earth Day, when the expansion was announced. “Millions of families will save almost $400 a year on utility bills.” Biden also promised that the initiative will “create 200,000 good-paying union jobs over five years in communities that need them most.”

While the $7 billion endowment will certainly move the climate finance needle in the right direction within the United States, much more will need to be done to support climate justice nationwide. Lowering emissions in the United States is not just about putting solar panels on the roofs of poor people. It’s about the richest Americans lowering their own carbon emissions. 

The richest people in the U.S. are responsible for 40% of emissions due to a combination of carbon-heavy lifestyles and carbon-heavy investments. “It just seems morally and politically problematic to have one group of people reaping so much benefit from emissions while the poorer groups in society are asked to disproportionately deal with the harms of those emissions,” Jared Starr, a sustainability scientist at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, told the Washington Post. At a global level, we have repeatedly seen that poorest people are the most vulnerable and least resilient to climate-related weather disasters and quieter climate-related issues like extreme heat in poor neighborhoods with more concrete and fewer trees than rich neighborhoods. 

By Haley Zaremba for


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