Proposed Senate Bill Could Make Massachusetts a Climate Change Leader

The Massachusetts Statehouse. Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

By Sarah Rappaport
BU News Service

Lawmakers at the Massachusetts State House Tuesday presented a new bill that would allow taxpayers to donate part of their tax returns to combat the effects of climate change in developing nations.

Senate Bill 2056, if accepted, would enable lawmakers to add a box to state tax returns to give Massachusetts taxpayers the option to donate to the Least Developed Countries Fund. The Joint Committee of Revenue will oversee the legislature decision.

“My constituents really want to strike the note of sympathy and solidarity around the world, at the very time that we have a president walking away from them,” said Sen. Michael J. Barrett, the bill’s lead sponsor.

The Least Developed Countries Fund, established by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 2001, strives to assist global communities who are deemed the most susceptible to adverse effects resulting from climate change. Least Developed Countries are defined as the forty-eight most poverty-stricken countries in the world.

The UNFCCC has strong oversight over the fund, according to Sen. Barrett. Funds collected through the tax return check-offs would be funneled directly to projects supported by the Least Developed Countries Fund. The projects proposed for funding must go through an approval process before they receive benefits.

In order to allocate donations, a voluntary check-off box would be added to state tax returns, allowing citizens to contribute flexible amounts of money. Because the program would not be mandatory, no net administrative costs are expected. Massachusetts offers six similar check-off boxes on tax returns currently, with the most successful box accumulating just over $353,000.

Dr. Adil Najam, the Dean of the Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies at Boston University and a witness at the hearing, said he hopes that Massachusetts will become a leader in the fight against climate change and that it will inspire other states to follow in its path.

“This is a brilliant new model for bringing global and local together,” Dr. Najam said.

Lawmakers say the bill, currently the only one of its kind, is aimed at merging state and global efforts to reduce the impacts of climate change.

A group of educational institutions, experts in development and health, advocates and business professionals called the Coalition for the Massachusetts Least Developed Countries Fund is advocating for the bill to pass through the legislature.

The Boston University Institute for Sustainable Energy (ISE) is joined in the coalition by Barbara Kates Garnick at The Center for International Environment and Resources Policy at the Fletcher School at Tufts University, Benito Müller of the University of Oxford and Oxfam America Climate and Energy Director Heather Coleman, among others.   

There is also an online petition urging citizens to voice their support for the bill and to encourage their state government leaders to vote yes.

Abby Maxman, a hearing witness and the president of Oxfam America, reiterated that it is a crucial time for bills such as Senate Bill 2056 to be passed.

“We are all witnesses to our new climate reality and the widespread suffering it brings,” Maxman said.

Maxman continued to suggest that part of the urgency motivating proponents of the bill is that Least Developed Countries are the most affected by climate change. According to a 2013 study conducted by the Brown University Center for Environmental Studies and the International Institute for Environment and Development, Least Developed Countries see about 67 percent of the world’s climate-related disaster deaths.

“We are currently in the midst of the largest humanitarian crisis since WWII and climate change is only fueling it,” Maxman said, referring to the large percentage of disaster-related deaths.

According to a World Bank report, the impacts of climate change can manifest as disease outbreaks, water contamination, and higher incidents of unusual weather events, among other occurrences. If a resolution is not found, nearly 100 million people may be living in poverty by 2030, according to the report.

Dr. Najam warns that these consequences of climate change are not limited to just the Least Developed Countries.

“Just like a molecule of carbon from my car does not need a visa to go to another country, the impacts of global climate change will not need a visa to move to come back and bite us.” Dr. Najam continued, “Those impacts, even if they happen very far away, will find a way to travel the world.”

Although Sen. Barrett and the Coalition for the Massachusetts Least Developed Countries Fund are creating preventative measures and taking action against climate change, the United States has notably pulled out of the Paris Climate Accord.

“I think the current administration has made it clear that they are not interested,” Dr. Najam said in reference to whether or not the presidential administration is doing enough to aid countries that would be benefited by this bill.  

Still, Dr. Najam noted that individual states do not have to rely on the executive decision to pull out of the climate agreements. He hopes that the bill will spur action.

“I think [this] is a way for citizens of this state and of this country to say we don’t want to abdicate leadership and we are not going to,” Dr. Najam said.  


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