Obama sets out climate vision

President Barack Obama announced a sweeping plan to cut carbon pollution, to protect the US from climate change impacts and revive his administration’s efforts to lead cooperative efforts with other nations to tackle global warming.

In a policy statement with big implications for renewables, Obama told students at Georgetown University in Washington, DC, that the initiative to curb CO2 emissions is in the national interest and will be carried out using his executive authority.

This will enable him to bypass Congress, where Republicans and coal-state Democrats blocked much of his first term climate agenda.
“I refuse to condemn your generation and future generations to a planet that’s beyond fixing,” he said.

“As a president, as a father and as an American, I’m here to say we need to act.” Obama added that he remains committed to reducing US greenhouse gas emissions 17% below 2005 levels by 2020.

Obama will direct the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to work “expeditiously” to finalize “open and transparent” regulations to limit carbon emissions for new power plants in September, and draft ones for existing facilities by 1 July 2014. He says that power plants produce about 40% of the country’s CO2 emissions and 33% of greenhouse gases.

Obama slammed Senate Republicans for holding up the nomination of Gina McCarthy to head EPA, calling on them to confirm her without further delay.

As expected, his plan also includes the Interior Department (DOI) permitting an additional 10GW of renewable energy projects on public lands by 2020, and doubling the share of renewables in the nation’s generation mix to about 6% this decade. DOI was also directed to help recipients of federal aid for housing to install 100MW of mainly solar power on or in them by 2020.

He set a new goal for the federal government to consume 20% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020, almost triple the existing 7.5% target.

The plan also includes up to $8bn in loan guarantees for projects that capture carbon and a previously announced proposal to increase clean energy research, development and deployment in the next fiscal year that begins 1 October.

Another measure would end US government backing for new coal-fired power plants overseas unless they include carbon capture technologies, or would be located in the poorest nations. Obama also committed his administration to work with other large trading nations to begin negotiations at the World Trade Organization to promote international free trade in clean energy technologies.

Obama vowed to redouble efforts to achieve an elusive global treaty that would tackle climate change. “We need an inclusive agreement – because different nations have different needs,” he says.

He also pledged federal support for efforts by states and cities to prepare themselves for the effects of climate change such as more severe storms, potential water supply damage and shoreline fortification.