June 30, 2013

Obama’s Call for Climate Action

On Tuesday, June 25, 2013 in sweltering temperatures President Barack Obama presented his administration’s long awaited plan to address climate change both at home and abroad. He was keen to point out that changes are already afoot and while no single extreme weather event can be attributed to climate change it is certainly having an effect. While adaptation was a key message within his address, he reemphasized the important role the US needed to play in mitigating the effects of climate change and in that regard working aggressively to significantly curtail emissions nationally. The plan President Obama presented aims to do the following:

  • Limit the amount of carbon pollution that is released from power plants;
  • Use more clean energy;
  • Build the transportation sector for the 21st century;
  • Reduce energy waste in cars, homes and businesses;
  • Cut other greenhouse gas emissions; and
  • Demonstrate federal leadership on an international scale.

2013_06_30_Infographic President Obama's Climate Action PlanThe plan includes some broad timelines that will be used to complete the action items outlined in his plan. For example, with respect to carbon pollution reduction from power plants, Obama directed the “EPA to work closely with states, industry and other stakeholders to establish carbon pollution standards for both new and existing power plants” by 2016. This represents a good start; however, some of the goals identified under the priorities stated above are very broad. In this case, it may be beneficial to consider the approach used in the Government of Ontario’s Climate Ready: Ontario’s Adaptation Strategy and Action Plan (2011-2014). This strategy and action plan sets out some policies and programs that the province can implement in order to prepare for climate change. While the strategy does not provide specific timelines, it outlines five goals under which action items have been identified to achieve those goals.

Throughout his speech, President Obama was very clear about his position on climate change and the need to address it. For him, “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. Ninety-seven percent of scientists, including, by the way, some who originally disputed the data, have now put that to rest. They’ve acknowledged the planet is warming and human activity is contributing to it.” It is clear to the President that scientific evidence exists to justify the government’s action on mitigating the effects of climate change. In the past, one of the arguments that has been used to justify inaction is that jobs will be lost if action is taken to address environmental concerns. President Obama vigorously responds to this by providing examples of actions that have been taken in American history which resulted in lower carbon pollution while at the same time creating jobs. Moreover, instead of losing jobs Obama reiterates that action taken to address environmental issues and climate change have conversely created jobs and ultimately improved the environment.

Some of the ideas that President Obama presented in his State of Union Address in February are reiterated in his climate change plan. For example, he mentioned that he would like to start an initiative which will cut energy use in homes and businesses in half over the next 20 years. President Obama did go further in his plan and set some specific goals (i.e. the federal government will consume 20% of its energy from renewable sources within the next seven years) and he is also willing to bypass Congress (if necessary) to tackle climate change. As President Obama’s remarks came to a close, he stated that “we don’t have time for a meeting of the Flat Earth Society. Sticking your head in the sand might make you feel safer, but it’s not going to protect you from the coming storm. And ultimately, we will be judged as a people, and as a society, and as a country on where we go from here.”
Overall, I believe this plan is a move in the right direction but it remains to be seen how effectively the climate change plan is implemented. What do you think?

President Obama’s Plan to Fight Climate Change. (2013, June 25). Retrieved June 26, 2013, from The White House: http://www.whitehouse.gov/share/climate-action-plan
Office of the Press Secretary. (2013, June 25). Remarks by the President on Climate Change. Retrieved June 26, 2013, from The White House: http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2013/06/25/remarks-president-climate-change

2013_11_30_Simran ChatthaSimran Chattha completed her B.E.S. degree at York University. More recently, she graduated from the University of Guelph with an M.A. in Political Science specializing in Public Policy and Administration. Her research interests lie in the areas of environmental policy and climate change adaptation.



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