Washington: Declaring that the world does not have time for “a meeting of the flat earth society” before it acts on climate change, US President Barack Obama has unveiled a package of measures to reduce American carbon emissions, lead global moves towards clean energy and prepare for the impact of climate change.
The President said questions about the cause and potential impact of climate change had been put to rest by the “overwhelming judgment of science”.
The question is not whether we need to act. The overwhelming judgment of science, of chemistry and physics and millions of measurements, has put all that to rest.
"Those who are feeling the effects of climate change don't have time to deny it — they're busy dealing with it," he said.
Time to act: US President Barack Obama gestures during a speech on climate change. Photo: AP
Mopping his brow as he spoke in 33 degree heat at Georgetown University in Washington DC, Mr Obama announced he would direct the Environmental Protection Agency to draft emission standards for new power plants this year and existing power plants next year.
“Power plants can still dump unlimited amounts of carbon pollution into our air for free,” he said. “It needs to stop.”
The plans are part of the effort to meet a previously stated goal to reduce America’s greenhouse gas emissions by 17 per cent below 2005 levels by 2020.
The President said he would direct the State Department not to approve the controversial Keystone pipeline, planned to pipe oil from Canada’s vast tar sands oil reserves to America’s Gulf Coast, if it was shown the project would lead to “significantly” increased emissions.
And he has announced increased funding for clean energy technology with a view to doubling wind and solar production by 2020.
“The question is not whether we need to act. The overwhelming judgment of science, of chemistry and physics and millions of measurements, has put all that to rest,” said Mr Obama. “So the question now is whether we will have the courage to act before it's too late.”
He said 12 of the hottest years on record had been in the past 15 years and argued that gradually moving away from a carbon economy should not necessarily cost jobs.
Though the President called for an end to the partisan debate over climate change, he tacitly acknowledged that bipartisan action in Washington was impossible by creating a set of measures he could implement through administrative order rather than by trying to drive new laws through Congress.
He announced an end to US public financing of dirty coal fired power stations internationally and an end to tax subsidies of fossil fuels within the United States.
Tackling climate change has long been a goal of Mr Obama, though it has been delayed by his first term focus on healthcare reform and the Democratic Party’s loss of control in the House of Representatives in 2010.
The measures announced on Tuesday fulfill a promise – or threat - made in State of the Union address earlier this year, in which the President said, “if Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will."
“I will direct my Cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy.”
The President said the United States should deepen its reliance on natural gas as a bridging fuel for the move away from dirtier energy sources.
Andrew Steer, the president of the World Resources Institute and a former top official at the World Bank, called the presidential initiative “extraordinarily important”.
“The United States has been notable in recent years for a lack of a national climate strategy,” Mr. Steer said in a telephone briefing for reporters, the New York Time reported. “It’s a wonderful thing to see that he is reclaiming this issue.”
"Americans are already dealing with worse droughts, wildfires and coastal floods, and the practical realities of climate change are forcing political leaders to make this a priority," said Alden Meyer, strategy and policy director at the Union of Concerned Scientists.
Meyer said that Mr Obama "has a little more than three years to cement a lasting legacy on climate change, and he'll need every last second."
The Republican Party’s Senate Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell who represents the coal-rich state of Kentucky, said the plan was "tantamount to declaring a war on jobs. It's tantamount to kicking the ladder out from beneath the feet of many Americans struggling in today's economy."
Even before the White House had the announced the details the Republican House Speaker John Boehner said “I think this is absolutely crazy, why would you want to increase the cost of energy and kill more American jobs at a time when American people are asking, 'Where are the jobs.' "
Before the White House had even posted a transcript of the speech on its website the President’s political machine, Organizing for Action had begun emailing its members calling on them to begin activism in support of the package.
What Obama announced:
• Cutting Carbon Emissions: Order the EPA to finish carbon pollution standards for new power plants this year and existing power plants in 2014. [Carbon pollution from power plants is currently unlimited.];
• Renewable Energy: Double electricity fueled by renewable energy by 2020 nationally and increase federal government use of renewable energy from 7.5 percent currently to 20 percent by 2020;
• Coal: End U.S. public financing of coal-fired plants overseas, exempting only those using the cleanest technology available in those countries;
• Taxes: End tax subsidies for fossil fuels;
• Autos: Develop post 2018 fuel economy standards for heavy-duty vehicles;
• Conduct first Quadrennial Energy Review and Climate Data Initiative to gather climate and energy data and make it publicly available;
International: Seek ambitious U.N. climate change treaty by 2015 and lead multilateral emission reduction efforts.