U.S. President Obama Outlines New Climate Action Plan

We have a moral obligation to leave our children a planet that’s not polluted or damaged. We can slow the effects of climate change and leave a cleaner environment for future generations.

GLOBE-Net, June 25, 2013 – These thoughts were reflective of the over-riding theme of a wide-ranging address to students and faculty of Georgetown University today by U.S. President Barack Obama as he outlined a new plan to deal with climate change. 

While pointing out the growing harsh realities of storms, droughts and other climate related impacts that have become all too well known, the President noted that Climate change represents one of our greatest challenges of our time and a challenge uniquely suited to America’s strengths. 

He stressed that progress has been made on many fronts, and by building on this progress much more can and will be accomplished. 

“We’ll need scientists to design new fuels, and we’ll need farmers to grow new fuels.  We’ll need engineers to devise new technologies, and we’ll need businesses to make and sell those technologies.  We’ll need workers to operate assembly lines that hum with high-tech, zero-carbon components, but we’ll also need builders to hammer into place the foundations for a new clean energy era.”  U.S. President Barack Obama

‘The President’s Climate Action Plan’ packaged a number of initiatives and policy decisions around three broad themes: Curbing carbon pollution, Preparing for climate change, and Leading global efforts to address climate change. 

Curbing carbon pollution 

With respect to curbing carbon pollution, the President noted that no single action could reverse the effects of climate change, but he announced a series of executive decisions that:

  • Directs the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to work closely with states, industry and other stakeholders to establish carbon pollution standards for both new and existing power plants;
  • Makes up to $8 billion in loan guarantees available for a wide array of advanced fossil energy and efficiency projects to support investments in innovative technologies;
  • Directs the department of the Interior (DOI) to permit enough renewables projects -like wind and solar – on public lands by 2020 to power more than 6 million homes; designates the first-ever hydropower project for priority permitting; and sets a new goal to install 100 megawatts of renewables on federally assisted housing by 2020; while maintaining the commitment to deploy renewables on military installations;
  • Expands the President’s Better Building Challenge, focusing on helping commercial, industrial, and multi-family buildings cut waste and become at least 20 percent more energy efficient by 2020;
  • Sets a goal to reduce carbon pollution by at least 3 billion metric tons cumulatively by 2030 – more than half of the annual carbon pollution from the U.S. energy sector – through efficiency standards set over the course of the Administration for appliances and federal buildings;
  • Commits to partnering with industry and stakeholders to develop fuel economy standards for heavy-duty vehicles to save families money at the pump and further reduce reliance on fuel consumption and foreign oil.post-2018; and
  • Leverages new opportunities to reduce pollution of highly-potent greenhouse gases known as hydrofluorocarbons; directs agencies to develop a comprehensive methane strategy; and commits to protect our forests and critical landscapes.


Preparing for climate change 

Emphasizing repeatedly that climate change was a reality that will affect everyone and that must engage everyone, the President outlined a number of initiatives in the plan that:

  • Directs agencies to support local climate-resilient investment by removing barriers or counterproductive policies and modernizing programs; and establishes a short-term task force of state, local, and tribal officials to advise on key actions the Federal government can take to help strengthen communities on the ground;
  • Pilots innovative strategies in the Hurricane Sandy-affected region to strengthen communities against future extreme weather and other climate impacts; and building on a new, consistent flood risk reduction standard established for the Sandy-affected region, agencies will update flood-risk reduction standards for all federally funded projects;
  • Launches an effort to create sustainable and resilient hospitals in the face of climate change through a public-private partnership with the healthcare industry;
  • Maintains agricultural productivity by delivering tailored, science-based knowledge to farmers, ranchers, and landowners; and helps communities prepare for drought and wildfire by launching a National Drought Resilience Partnership and by expanding and prioritizing forest- and rangeland- restoration efforts to make areas less vulnerable to catastrophic fire; and
  • Provides climate preparedness tools and information needed by state, local, and private-sector leaders through a centralized “toolkit” and a new Climate Data Initiative.


Leading global efforts to address climate change

One of the most anticipated elements of the President’s address dealt with America’s re-engagement as the world leader in dealing with climate change. 

The President made clear the fact that no country is immune from the impacts of climate change and no country could meet this challenge alone, and that as the world’s largest economy and second largest emitter of greenhouse gases, it was incumbent on the U.S. to galvanize international action to significantly reduce emissions, prepare for climate impacts, and drive progress through international negotiations. 

To this end he committed to:

  • Expand major new and existing international initiatives, including bilateral initiatives with China, India, and other major emitting countries;
  • Lead global public sector financing towards cleaner energy by calling for the end of U.S. government support for public financing of new coal-fired powers plants overseas, except for the most efficient coal technology available in the world’s poorest countries, or facilities deploying carbon capture and sequestration technologies; and
  • Strengthen global resilience to climate change by expanding government and local community planning and response capacities.

One noteworthy  initiative introduced by the President was a direction given to his administration to launch negotiations toward global free trade in environmental goods and services, including clean energy technology “to help more countries skip past the dirty phase of development and join a global low-carbon economy.” 

Research conducted by GLOBE Advisors has confirmed the significance of easier access to low-carbon energy and environmental protection technologies in terms of job creation and investment promotion. 

Keystone Pipeline 

One of the key international issues touched on during the address was the future of the TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline, which is still under review by the U.S. State Department. The pipeline must be found to “be in our nation’s interest,” he stated, adding that authorities should only approve it if they’re certain it won’t “significantly exacerbate” greenhouse gas emissions. 

[stextbox id=”custom” float=”true” align=”right” width=”200″ bcolor=”add3d5″ bgcolor=”add3d5″ image=”null”]A determination that building the northern portion of Keystone XL will not result in greater greenhouse gas emissions is absolutely critical in deciding whether this project will be allowed to go forward. [/stextbox]

While most of the elements outlined in the new climate plan do not require Congressional approval, the President stressed that bipartisan support was critical and to the success of the plan and that he was willing to work with stakeholders from all parties and all communities.

He cited the bipartisan contributions of Gina McCarthy, his nominee to head the Environmental Protection Agency (and a GLOBE 2012 Speaker) as an example of how all parties need to work together to make real progress in dealing with climate change.   

Initial reactions to the plan have been positive, but as the President pointed out in his comments, its implementation will not be easy, or quick, and there will be many hardships to endure.

In his closing comments he stated, “Our progress here will be measured differently — in crises averted, in a planet preserved.  But can we imagine a more worthy goal?”

The full plan is available here, and the President’s address at Georgetown University can be downloaded from here. A graphic outline of the Plan is available here.

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Climate Change and the many dimensions of adaptation to it will be a major issue of discussion at GLOBE 2014, the next in the celebrated GLOBE Series Conferences on the business of the environment taking place in Vancouver Canada, March 26-28, 2014. Reserve your place now. Check here for more details.

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