Sunrise Movement ATX protesting at the Texas Capitol Building

Post IPCC Report: Climate Bills in the Texas Legislature

In 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report that would prove substantial to shifting the global political landscape around the conversation of climate change and climate policy. The ‘Summary for Policymakers of IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius approved by governments’ detailed how if carbon emissions were not controlled by 2030, irreparable damage might be done that would cause global temperature rises to be permanent. With global and national conversations affecting state-level conversations, how has the IPCC report affected the frequency of climate change bills in the Texas state legislature?

While this report was global by nature, the effects in the United States of America and in Texas specifically cannot be understated. The conversation around climate change and global warming has shifted immensely. Previously, conversations used to be whether climate change was even real. During the 2016 Presidential cycle, then-candidate Donald Trump cast doubt on the realities of climate change, saying that “there is still much that needs to be investigated in the field.” Now, far from questioning the facts, discussions have become centered around policy solutions from governments to address the severe issue.

Unlike in 2016, where the conversation centered around science’s realities, a town hall was held during the 2020 Democratic primary entirely devoted to climate change. The town hall was centered around each candidate’s plans to solve the crisis, moving away from the conversation of whether or not climate change is real and into the actual policy proposals to solve it. This orientation towards policy solutions was spurred by(at that time) new progressive Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who brought the Green New Deal into the national conversation by launching a sit-in with the Sunrise Movement in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office in the November 2018 time period after Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez won her election.

Even as prominent Republican politicians like Donald Trump have cast doubt on climate change, the issue has become more important to younger GOP voters. Like Democrats and Democratic-leaners in the public, young Republicans and Republican-leaners are concerned about implementing climate policies to solve the crisis.

When the Green New Deal was becoming an important issue at the national level, national conversations began to affect local discussions. Local and state politicians picked up on the changing public conversation. Because of this, many state governments started doing more to address the issue. Larger conversations around the nation affected climate change bills in our own Texas legislature, and bills filed around climate change in the state legislature have increased substantially.

To create a criterion for what constitutes a climate bill, any bills that mentioned the phrase “climate change” explicitly were given the label “climate bill.” During the 85th (2017) state legislative regular session, 86th (2019) state legislative regular session, and the current 87th (2021) Texas state legislative regular session, all “climate bills” were quantified and placed into the chart shown below. The 85th state legislative session is mainly used as the control because the first Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report had not been released. At that point, there was no mainstream national conversation around the issue of climate change. The information on bills was pulled directly from the Texas Legislature Online website, a Texas state government product, to collect data.

There seems to be a positive correlation between the time the conversations around climate change, global warming, and green energy policy solutions became nationalized and the amount of “climate change” bills filed in the Texas state legislature. In the 85th legislative session, only two bills even mentioned “climate change” at all. These bills were HB 420 and HB 1485. By the 86th state legislative session in 2019, six bills were filed throughout the session that had the phrase “climate change” mentioned at least once in them. This was a notable increase of 4 bills.

Moving into the current 87th Texas state legislative session, there have been ten bills filed that directly mention “climate change.” This is another increase of four.

Graphic by Leland Murphy. Data Source: Texas Legislature Online

Though few, if any, of these bills have passed or become actual law, that many policy proposals surrounding climate change are being put forward shows that public conversation is spurring some semblance of action. More policy solutions being put forward is evidence of the changing public opinion on the topic. The issue of climate change is becoming more important with voters, which reflects why an increasing number of bills have been filed each legislative session. On top of introducing bills, legislators in the state-house have formed an official Texas House Climate Caucus. Shifting focus specifically on the Texas state Senate, two climate change senate bills -SB 955 and SB 535- were filed in the 87th legislative session.

Graphic by Leland Murphy. Data Source: Texas Legislature Online

Theoretically, the state-senate is more insulated from public opinion meaning that the shift of public opinion on climate change is measurable enough to reach the offices of state senators. As the issue of climate change becomes more salient with Texan voters, more climate bills will continue to be introduced in both chambers and eventually become law.

Though all of the bills introduced in the Texas Legislature are from Democrats, Republican voters broadly support climate change policy as well. This is consistent with research from the Pew Center showing that a range of different climate policies maintain bipartisan support.

It is possible that in a few more legislative sessions, public opinion will catch up to GOP legislators who will start to become supportive of climate change bills, possibly even introducing legislation themselves. As of now, Texas Republican politicians are on the side of the fossil fuel industry and oppose any climate regulations.

With a problem as significant as the climate crisis, having multiple climate change bills proposed increases the likelihood that governments will solve the issue before the global temperature rises to an irreversible level. Moving away from simple conversations on the reality of climate change to real policy solutions is a major step forward to tackling the climate crisis in Texas and across the globe.

Works Cited

Douglas, E. (2021, February 10). Texas House Democrats launch climate, environment caucus with one goal: Talk about climate change in the Legislature. The Texas Tribune. https://www.texastribune.org/2021/02/10/texas-democrats-climate-environment-caucus/.

Funk, C., & Tyson, A. (2020, August 28). Millennial and Gen Z Republicans stand out from their elders on climate and energy issues. Pew Research Center. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2020/06/24/millennial-and-gen-z-republicans-stand-out-from-their-elders-on-climate-and-energy-issues/.

Green, M. (2018, November 13). Ocasio-Cortez joins climate change sit-in at Pelosi’s office. TheHill. https://thehill.com/policy/energy-environment/416411-youth-protestors-fill-nancy-pelosis-office-demanding-climate-change.

Letzter, R. (2016, October 20). Don’t forget what happened the one time Trump and Clinton really debated climate change. Business Insider. https://www.businessinsider.com/donald-trump-hillary-clinton-debate-climate-change-2016-10.

Summary for Policymakers of IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C approved by governments. IPCC Summary for Policymakers of IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 15C approved by governments Comments. (n.d.). https://www.ipcc.ch/2018/10/08/summary-for-policymakers-of-ipcc-special-report-on-global-warming-of-1-5c-approved-by-governments/.

Tyson, A., & Kennedy, B. (2021, March 8). Two-Thirds of Americans Think Government Should Do More on Climate. Pew Research Center Science & Society. https://www.pewresearch.org/science/2020/06/23/two-thirds-of-americans-think-government-should-do-more-on-climate/.

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