As President Obama and his advisers unveil their plans for the coming term, one thing seems certain: the new administration will usher in a sea change for climate change policy in the United States. For the first time, America is led by an executive who understands the perils of climate change and is committed to doing something about it.
The President’s new energy plan is unmistakably clear: “Global warming is real, is happening now, and is the result of human activities.” Among the plan’s ambitious goals:
- An 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050,
- A 100% auction cap-and-trade program, estimated to raise $646 billion in revenue
- Significant spending on alternative energy, efficiency research and implementation;
- A new forum for large greenhouse gas emitters including the G-8 nations plus Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa; and
- A new focus on reforestation and carbon sequestration.
Releasing this plan within his first month in office is a sure signal to the United States and to the world that confronting climate change is front-and-center of Obama’s legislative priorities. Even the $787 billion stimulus package includes several “green” provisions, with great potential to spur progress in climate change and energy research.
Climate change experts and foreign leaders internationally, however, are approaching the new administration with cautious optimism, but reporters at the December 2008 UNFCCC talks in Poland found international representatives hopeful that Obama’s “yes we can” mentality would carry over to the field of climate change. Acknowledging the higher concentration of climate skeptics in the U.S., Rajendra Pachauri, head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, nonetheless said, “What’s happened in this country in the last two years is encouraging. The president is now strongly interested in this issue. Congress is dominated by Democrats who are also interested.” Foreign leaders, many of whom have taken political risks such as Mexico’s pledge to halve its emissions, will surely expect the U.S. to follow suit.
International outreach and collaboration are indeed on the current Administration’s agenda. Obama met with Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper in February to discuss climate change and Canada’s controversial plans to exploit their oil sands. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in her “maiden voyage”, met with counterparts in China and emphasized cooperation on climate change and clean energy, especially considering the United States and China combined emit approximately 40% of the world’s total greenhouse gases. Grist’s environmental blog highlights a roundup
of the administration’s efforts to date, prospects for future climate change policy, and analyses of obstacles as well as allies in the House, Senate, industry and nonprofits.
To our international readers, what seems to be the general consensus regarding the U.S. Administration’s energy policy and Clinton’s visits to Japan, China, South Korea, and Indonesia? What strategies should the Administration pursue to mitigate climate change, and how can the Administration integrate efforts into those of the international community?