By Andy Rowell
President Barack Obama tweeted on Saturday that “we owe it to our kids to do something about climate change.”
The tweet and its accompanying video lay the ground for Obama’s major and long-awaited speech on climate tomorrow at Georgetown University.
In the video, Obama argues that: “There’s no single step that can reverse the effects of climate change. But when it comes to the world we leave our children, we owe it to them to do what we can.”
As the most powerful person in the free world, Obama can do more than most. His words in the video are not really new: he has made similar positive statements before, such as in his inauguration and State of the Union address. But despite the positive rhetoric, political action to tackle climate change has been limited due to the gridlock in Washington with open hostility to climate policies from the Republicans.
Due to this, the U.S. media are reporting that Obama is intending to introduce a series of executive actions, which do not need Congress's approval to be made into law. These measures will reportedly include tighter regulation of coal-fired power plants, increased energy efficiency standards and the promotion of renewable energy on public lands.
The good news is that Obama could undertake all of these policies without congressional approval. But while reducing pollution from power plants would be a welcome first step, there are other decisions that Obama can no longer duck.
First up, of course, is the pressing decision on Keystone XL (KXL). This is now seen by millions in the U.S. and abroad as the true litmus test of Obama’s stance on climate. Approve the pipeline and all his positive rhetoric counts for nothing—but by rejecting it, the President would send a powerful message that we cannot afford to burn the highly polluting tar sands.
But just as important as saying no to KXL is moving away from Obama’s “All of the Above" energy plan, which advocates a continued use of fossil fuels.
In that respect, as I have covered before, the President’s “All of the Above” energy plan is misguided. In reality it is little more than “Drill Baby Drill” by another name. The science is telling us that we cannot have all of the above. We cannot carry on relentless oil and gas drilling.
Moreover, As Steve Kretzmann and I have written before, “The President cannot simultaneously fight climate change and support an All of the Above/Drill Baby Drill energy strategy. It would be like launching a war on cancer while promoting cheap cigarettes for kids. Leadership on climate requires understanding this.”
Tomorrow the President clearly wants to show climate leadership. His intervention is welcome, but this time he must not fluff his lines. And that means no more “All of the Above,” as well as no KXL.
Moreover the President could set out a clear radical vision. Over in public health, tobacco control advocates have started talking about an “endgame” for eliminating cigarettes for society, with some countries, such as New Zealand, setting definitive time-scales to do so. It is time for politicians to do the same with fossil fuels. It is time to think about becoming fossil-free and setting a timescale to achieve that goal.
Visit EcoWatch’s CLIMATE CHANGE page for more related news on this topic.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Manish Bapna
What are the top environmental and development issues that will shape 2012? Jan. 10, I presented the World Resources Institute’s (WRI) 9th annual Stories to Watch at the National Press Club. While we can’t predict the future, here’s a rundown of the key issues to keep an eye on:
1. Environmental Issues in an Election Year
U.S. Climate Policy
In 2008, the Obama administration set a target that the U.S. would reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions 17 percent by 2020 (compared to 2005 levels). According to WRI’s 2010 analysis, the 17 percent target is still within reach, but it will require a sustained effort in 2012 and beyond.
In 2012, the Obama administration has significant opportunities to cut emissions—but it remains to be seen how far it will be willing to go. This year you cannot answer the question of whether the administration will be aggressive without considering the political context even more than usual.
At the state level, California will be putting in place the foundation for their new cap-and-trade program, and the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative states will be doing a program review in 2012.
U.S. Presidential Election
It's amazing how quickly things can change in politics. Back in 2008, both Democratic and Republican candidates supported national action to address climate change.
Now, the obvious story to watch is how environmental issues play out in the 2012 campaign. This will, in part, set the stage for what happens in the next presidential administration.
Will President Obama leverage his environment and public health record and position himself in contrast to the more extreme strains of the GOP? Will he lean into these issues or distance himself from them?
On the Republican side, will the presumed candidate embrace anti-EPA rhetoric, using it as a prime example of government overreach? Or will he pivot back toward more moderate positions as the general election begins?
2. Transitions in China
Solar and Wind Trade Issues between the U.S. and China
Recent trade cases have upped the ante in the clean energy trade dispute between the U.S. and China. Solarworld has brought a case forward on behalf of a coalition of U.S. manufacturers of solar panels. A group of solar buyers and installers have banded together to oppose the complaint. China’s Ministry of Commerce began a formal investigation of U.S. government support for the clean energy sector. And, just last week, a new trade case was filed in the U.S. challenging Chinese subsidies for steel towers used for wind turbines.
We’ll be keeping a close eye on this story. Some are suggesting that this dispute could become as heated as the trade wars on automobiles between the U.S. and Japan in the 1980s.
National Energy Cap
For the first time, China is considering setting a national cap on energy use. Although we don’t know the details yet, it will likely be an annual limit on total energy consumption or coal consumption, probably through 2015 or through 2020. This would be a major step forward in helping China decouple energy consumption from Gross Domestic Product growth.
The ultimate impact of the cap will be to limit the use of coal in China, which currently makes up more than 70 percent of consumption. We’ll be watching to see how this plays out on the national and provincial level.
Carbon Trading Systems
China will be setting up provincial carbon trading systems in 2012. Interestingly, the pilots in different places will be constructed differently. Just as U.S. states act as laboratories of change, the Chinese government uses pilots at the provincial level to test new ideas before scaling up across the country.
3. Rising Food Demand and Opportunities
Demand for food is accelerating at a remarkable rate. The global middle class is expected to triple within the next 20 years, changing the types of food people eat. There will be pressure to convert many of the remaining, pristine natural landscapes to food production. How we respond to this demand will have profound implications for biodiversity, forests and the global climate.
One solution to this problem is to restore degraded or significantly underproductive lands. Although estimates vary, a key study last year published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that somewhere between 600-700 million acres of degraded cropland has been abandoned over the past century, and a huge amount of that land (about four times the size of Texas) could be brought back into production.
4. Renewable Energy—Boom or Bust
Global investment in renewable energy is already approaching global investments in fossil fuels. Could 2012 be the year in which renewable energy investment surpasses fossil fuels?
This depends in part on two issues. First is the effect of the shale gas boom. Abundant, cheap shale gas may make it even more difficult for renewables to break into the market.
Second are government policy decisions, especially in the U.S., China, Germany and India. These will likely determine the scale of future investment in renewable energy. Will countries commit to steady and well-telegraphed renewable policies, as Germany has done successfully over the past few years, or will they cut renewable support under political and fiscal pressures?
In June 2012, more than 40,000 people are expected to convene for the Rio+20 Conference in Brazil. This is the fourth historic global environmental summit, following Stockholm in 1972, Rio in 1992, and Johannesburg in 2002. But, with just six months to go, vision for the conference is only now beginning to emerge. I am therefore doubtful that major breakthroughs will emerge from the official process. That said, we may see exciting action emerge from the bottom up—via a subset of governments or from civil society or from the business sector or a combination of them.
For example, we expect to see governments make commitments to energy access, and around water security, food security and governance. If so, we could see some significant developments in Rio.
When we look to 2012, we see that a movement toward sustainability is underway in many places around the globe. It is collapsing the boundaries between economics and environment, and is re-defining concepts of what constitutes quality of life and national security. We observe it is being driven not just by altruism, but by necessity—long-term business strategies, political calculations, re-valuing natural resources and in many instances survival for many people.
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