Obama launches fresh fight on climate change

Updated: 2013-06-26 11:01

By Chen Weihua in Washington (China Daily)

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Obama launches fresh fight on climate change

US President Barack Obama, whose ambition to combat climate change has long been hampered by Republicans in Congress, decided to escalate the fight by using his executive power to cut carbon emissions and protect future generations from the threat of global warming.

In a speech at the Georgetown University on Tuesday, Obama laid out his vision by announcing a new directive to limit carbon emissions for new and existing power plants.

"Power plants can still dump unlimited amounts of carbon pollution into the air for free. That's not right, that's not safe, and it needs to stop," said Obama, standing in the scorching sun in front of several hundred environmental supporters.

About 40 percent of US carbon dioxide emissions and one-third of greenhouse gases come from electric power plants, according to the US Energy Information Administration.

Obama also talked about a wide range of measures to cut greenhouse gas emissions and develop renewable energy and protect US coastal cities from flooding.

"The question now is whether we will have the courage to act before it's too late," Obama said. "As a president, as a father and as an American, I'm here to say, we need to act."

As Obama admitted that climate change has become a partisan issue, House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican from Ohio, said it was "astonishing" that Obama "is unilaterally imposing new regulations that will cost jobs and increase energy prices".

While the audience on Tuesday was mostly domestic, Obama also sent a message to the world that the US is able to take the lead in the global fight against greenhouse gas emissions.

"The actions I've announced today should send a strong signal to the world that America intends to take bold action to reduce carbon pollution," he said. "We will continue to lead by the power of our example, because that's what the United States of America has always done.

"And countries like China and Germany are going all out in the race for clean energy. I believe Americans build things better than anybody else. I want America to win that race," he said, "but we can't win it if we're not in it."

A Pew Charitable Trusts report shows that China was the world's top clean energy investor in 2012, with a record $68 billion.

Obama said he is directing his administration to launch negotiations for 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. "They don't have to repeat all the same mistakes that we made," he said.

Obama said the US has intensified its climate cooperation with major emerging economies such as India, Brazil and China.

"So, for example, earlier this month, President Xi (Jinping) of China and I reached an important agreement to jointly phase down our production and consumption of dangerous hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) and we intend to take more steps together in the months to come," said Obama, referring to his summit with Xi in Sunnylands, California.

"It will make a difference. It's a significant step in the reduction of carbon emissions," said Obama, triggering loud applause from the audience.

"And someday, our children, and our children's children, will look at us in the eye and they'll ask us, did we do all that we could when we had the chance to deal with this problem and leave them a cleaner, safer, more stable world? I want to be able to say, yes, we did. Don't you want that?"

Andrew Steer, president and CEO of the World Resources Institute, earlier described the agreement between China and the US to address HFCs as a "significant breakthrough".

"Joint action on HFCs can reduce one of the world's most potent greenhouse gases," Steer said, "and it reveals a new level of cooperation between these countries on climate change."

David Burwell, director of the energy and climate program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, described Obama's speech as "one hand clapping" by focusing on innovation and renewable energy with almost no discussion of the huge fossil fuel reserve that can be safely developed.

"That is the disappointing side; on the other side, he is elevating the conversation," Burwell told China Daily, referring to Obama's challenge to the Congress to pass the climate bill.

Burwell believes that despite Republican opposition, Obama can still make the US the global leader in fighting climate change. "The president can be the promoter-in-chief, he can lead and he can raise the stakes," said Burwell, noting that it took eight years for the US to put a man on the moon after John F. Kennedy laid out his vision.

Burwell said the US should expand collaboration with China, which, he said, "could be much better. Both sides want it to be better. I think for the world's benefit, it has to be better".

China and the US are the world's two largest greenhouse emitters, although per capita emission in the US is much higher than in China.


(China Daily USA 06/26/2013 page1)