US President Barack Obama said Tuesday that the time had come to take concrete action against climate change and called for the United States to take on a leading role in the fight.
He announced plans to curb US carbon emissions for the first time, calling for tough rules on new and existing powerplants and additional measures to fight climate change.
The proposals move toward the goal announced by Obama in 2009 of reducing US greenhouse gas emissions by 17 per cent below 2005 levels by 2020. He pointed to progress already made in promoting renewable energy and reducing foreign oil imports but insisted the country must do more.
”The question is not whether we need to act – the overwhelming judgement of science, of chemistry and physics and millions of measurements has put all that to rest,” he said in a speech at Georgetown University in Washington.
”The question now is whether we will have the courage to act before it’s too late.”
Obama said he would direct the Environmental Protection Agency to draft new pollution standards.
He declared a goal to reduce carbon emissions by a cumulative 3 billion metric tons by 2030 – equivalent to six months of pollution by the US energy sector – by raising home appliance energy-efficiency standards and making federal buildings greener.
The steps he announced would not require approval by Congress, avoiding a potential showdown with Republicans reluctant to put new restrictions on businesses.
Speaker of the House John Boehner, the top Republican leader in Congress, criticized Obama for ”unilaterally imposing new regulations that will cost jobs and increase energy prices.”
Obama sought to preempt that criticism, arguing that previous environmental regulations had not caused the economic damage critics had feared. He said it was possible to create jobs, improve the economy and still take action on climate change.
He directly addressed the Keystone pipeline proposal that would route oil from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. Obama’s government delayed an earlier decision on the pipeline and has been under pressure – from environmentalists to deny the proposal, and from business interests to approve it.
”Allowing the Keystone pipeline to be built requires finding that doing so would be in our nation’s interests,” he said. ”And our national interest will be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.”
A final decision on the project would come from the State Department because it crosses the US-Canadian border, and no final determination had been made.
The Sierra Club, an environmental group, welcomed Obama’s proposals and called the new restrictions on coal plants were ”the most effective defence against climate disruption.”
Obama’s plans will allow renewable energy projects such as solar panels and windmills on federal land, and will roll out an 8-billion-dollar loan guarantee authority for advanced fossil energy and efficiency products, among other measures.
Obama called for more international efforts to fight climate change, such as bilateral initiatives with China and India. He vowed to seek to end US support for most new coal powerplants in other countries and called for free-trade initiatives for environmental goods and services.
”I’m convinced this is the fight America can and will lead in the 21st century,” he said in the outdoor speech on a sweltering summer day.
Obama called for action to mitigate the effects of climate change, such as extreme weather, by improving flood standards and helping farmers and ranchers better deal with threats from drought and fires.
He pointed to the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy in November in New York and New Jersey in calling for infrastructure improvements, such as stronger seawalls, natural barriers, improved power grids and other improvements.
He dismissed those who deny climate change or the need to act as unnecessarily delaying action.
”Sticking your head in the sand might make you feel safer, but it’s not going to protect you from the coming storm,” he said. ”And ultimately, we will be judged as a people and as a society and as a country on where we go from here.” (dpa)
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