Climate Challenges and Opportunities in the State of the Union

28 Jan

President Obama delivers the 2015 State of the Union Address. Photo Credit: Alex Wong, Getty Images

By Jack Karsten, PISA Staff Assistant

“No challenge poses a greater threat”

In his seventh State of the Union address, President Obama framed his discussion of climate change in terms of challenges and opportunities. In particular, he emphasized the long-term threats presented by climate change and the steps that the United States had already taken to mitigate these threats. This is a source of tension between Democratic and Republican lawmakers, making it more difficult to enact new policies nationwide. The major point of conflict is the impact of human activity. The president referenced findings by scientists at NASA, NOAA, and major universities that link rising global temperatures to human activity. Days after the speech, the Senate voted for the first time to recognize that climate change is real, a sign that lawmakers from both parties have found some common ground on the issue. In spite of political disagreements, developments since the State of Union show opportunities for advancing climate policy.

“America is number one in wind power”

President Obama also touted recent achievements in energy security, including renewable energy development such as wind and solar power: “Every three weeks, we produce as much solar power as we did in all of 2008”. Energy production is another crucial element within the climate change issue. In order to reduce reliance on fossil fuels, renewable energy production will have to expand in scale to the point where renewables can compete on cost and convenience with dirtier fuel sources. To follow up on his carbon reduction commitments, President Obama asked Congress on January 25, 2015 to designate millions of acres of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as off-limits to oil and natural gas exploration.

“In Beijing, we made a historic announcement”

The president acknowledged climate change’s important role in international diplomacy. The US-China climate agreement, signed in November 2014, set a goal for the United States to double its rate for reducing carbon emissions, and commits China to limiting their greenhouse gas emissions for the first time. This is an important step for the world’s two largest economies and the two largest greenhouse gas emitters. Together, the US and China account for nearly one-third of the world’s carbon emissions, so any concrete steps they take to reduce emissions would have a significant global impact. Just as important, the United States and China can use this agreement as leverage to engage with other countries about climate change issues. For example, during his trip to India last week, President Obama and Prime Minister Narendra Modi committed themselves to future cooperative action.

“An agreement to protect the one planet we’ve got”

The President concluded his remarks on climate change by expressing hope for a global agreement later this year. The UN will hold its 2015 Climate Change Conference in Paris this December, giving nations another opportunity to create a legally binding framework for reducing carbon emissions. While previous attempts to create such a framework have failed to garner support from some of the world’s biggest polluters, there is a chance that the US-China agreement has broken some of the deadlock. The State of the Union address acknowledged the challenges presented by climate change, but also outlined positive steps that the United States and other countries can take to combat its worst effects.

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