Chris Van Hollen, a Democrat, represents Maryland in the U.S. Senate.

Global warming has reached “unprecedented” levels and is causing catastrophic damage across America and the world, according to a new report from the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

That report, based on more than 14,000 peer-reviewed studies, makes two things clear: Fossil fuel pollution is driving this crisis, and we have no time to waste in transitioning to a clean-energy future. This shift will require considerable resources, and it is only fair that the corporations that have profited from dirty energy should help fund the solutions to this dire situation.

That’s why this month, I led a group of fellow senators in announcing new federal legislation that would require the biggest polluters — mostly mega-wealthy oil companies — to begin helping foot the bill to address the climate crisis. The Polluters Pay Climate Fund Act is based on a simple premise: Polluters should pay to help clean up their mess, and those who pollute the most should pay the most.

The idea is similar to the Superfund legislation Congress passed in the 1980s to clean up concentrated hazardous waste sites. Many of my Republican colleagues support that program, voting just last week to increase fees on companies that contribute to that waste as part of the bipartisan Senate infrastructure bill. Now, our very atmosphere is a de facto Superfund site. My bill requires that the largest greenhouse gas polluters — like companies that deal with hazardous waste — must help pay to address the harm they have caused.

Because of the pollution these companies have spewed into the air, our planet is hotter than ever recorded — with extreme heat waves, widespread wildfires, rising seas, historic floods and prolonged droughts. Without rapid cuts in fossil-fuel use, these disasters will become more frequent and severe. The IPCC report called it a “code red for humanity.”

My legislation would require the 25 to 30 biggest fossil-fuel polluters doing business in the United States — led by oil corporations such as ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell and BP — to pay a tax based on a percentage of their global emissions. This would be determined by publicly available data.

The collected funds — set at $500 billion over 10 years — could then be reinvested to address various efforts designed to tackle climate change within the Senate’s proposed $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation bill. Investments could include bolstering electric-grid resilience against extreme weather and cyberattacks, supporting the electricity sector’s transition to net-zero emissions and strengthening our infrastructure to protect against rising seas. Funds could also be used to accelerate renewable energy research and deployment, as well as workforce training.

To address historic injustices, at least 40 percent of the funds would be directed toward communities hit hardest by climate disasters as a result of discriminatory policies that have resulted in economic, environmental or health disparities.

President Biden and my colleagues in the House and Senate are closer than ever to making historic and necessary investments in America’s ability to combat climate change and speed up the transition to clean energy. But taxpayers shouldn’t have to foot the bill for these necessary costs alone. After all, Americans are already paying an ever-increasing price for fossil fuel-driven catastrophes, from lives lost and properties destroyed to the enormous costs communities face to protect themselves. At the same time, some of the richest corporations on the planet have made trillions of dollars off these very same fossil fuels. Yet the corporate polluters and their shareholders — led by Big Oil — have never been asked to pay for any of the societal costs of their climate pollution. Instead, perversely, their damaging business model has actually been rewarded for generations with federal subsidies from U.S. taxpayers — and in some years paying no tax themselves.

This financial calculus must change in every way. The urgency of the climate crisis demands congressional action aimed at those most responsible. With the Polluters Pay Climate Fund, the very biggest fossil fuel companies will finally pay to address some of the harm they’ve done to our environment, and help transition to a cleaner, healthier and more resilient society for all.