By Charlene Porter
IIP Staff Writer
June 25, 2013
“Using less dirty energy, transitioning to cleaner sources of energy, wasting less energy through our economy is where we need to go,” Obama said to a supportive audience on the campus of Georgetown University in Washington. “This plan will get us there faster.”
Reducing emissions of greenhouse gases from carbon-based fuels is a key strategy, and Obama said he is ordering the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to set limits on emissions that can be released by new and existing electric utility plants. These facilities are the source of one-third of all emissions, the single largest generator of greenhouse gases in the United States, according to EPA data. The transportation sector and industry are the second- and third-ranking sources of greenhouse gases.
Obama said some utilities around the country are already modernizing with equipment that lessens emissions, suggesting that the federal government is only catching up with local leaders working to contain climate change. Nearly a dozen states are developing or using market-based carbon reduction programs, he said, a principal mechanism for carbon reduction outlined in the international Kyoto Protocol.
“More than 25 [states] have set energy-efficiency targets, more than 35 have set renewable-energy targets,” Obama said. “Over 1,000 mayors have signed agreements to cut carbon pollution.”
Another principal action in the administration’s plan recognizes that the climate is already changing and some communities are bound to be hit by severe storms or rising sea levels. Hurricane damage in the northeast United States at the end of 2012 made city governments more aware of their vulnerabilities, Obama said.
“We’ve got to build smarter, more resilient infrastructure that can protect our homes and businesses and withstand more powerful storms,” the president said.
The third major goal of the White House climate change strategy is that the United States must lead international efforts to prepare for the consequences of climate change that are already putting other nations and their citizens at risk. Obama said the United States must help other nations progress in adopting cleaner energy technologies and reducing carbon emissions at the same time those actions are taken domestically.
“We compete for business with [emerging economies], but we also share the planet, and we have to all shoulder the responsibility of keeping the planet habitable, or we’re going to all suffer the consequences together,” Obama said.To speed the transition, the president said, U.S. industry will partner with other governments to speed their adaptation to natural gas, a cleaner-burning fuel than coal, currently used in many places. Obama said he’s calling for an end to public funding for coal-burning plants overseas, unless they incorporate carbon-capture technologies or use the most efficient coal technology.
The United States is also working to facilitate private financial support to clean-energy projects in other countries, and Obama said he’s calling for free trade in environmental goods and services, especially clean-energy technology, “to help more countries skip past the dirty phase of development and join a low-carbon economy.”
A wave of applause went through the campus audience as he said developing-nation governments “don’t need to make the same mistakes we made.”
Another element of the climate change strategy is to enhance engagement with emerging economies such as India and China to reduce the use of substances with polluting byproducts.
Secretary of State John Kerry was advancing the president’s agenda on international climate engagement even before the Washington speech. In India on June 23, Kerry told an audience that scientists have recently noted a higher carbon level in the atmosphere — 400 parts per billion — than has ever been recorded before, and the evidence of warming is clear.
“When the Himalayan glaciers are receding, threatening the very supply of water to almost a billion people, we all need to do better,” Kerry said.
Obama closed his remarks by encouraging his critics to keep in mind the judgment future generations will make of the actions taken today.
“Someday our children and our children’s children will look us in the eye and ask us, did we do all that we could when we had the chance … to leave them a cleaner, safer and more stable world,” Obama predicted. “And I want to be able to say, ‘Yes we did.’ Don’t you want that?”