Obama faces calls to tackle climate change as he returns to White House

Barack Obama has renewed his focus on climate change mitigation and energy security as he secured an historic second term of office as President of the United States.

Following a decisive victory against his Republican opponent Mitt Romney, Obama gave a rallying speech to crowds in Chicago that returned to his theme of hope for the future of the nation.

The topic of climate change was largely absent throughout the campaign, with neither candidate raising the issue during the presidential debates.

But Obama invoked the issue in his victory speech, receiving one of the biggest cheers of the night. “Despite all our differences, most of us share certain hopes for America’s future,” he said.

“We want our children to live in an America that isn’t burdened by debt, that isn’t weakened by inequality, that isn’t threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet.”

He added that he was “more determined and more inspired than ever” to tackle issues facing the future of the US, including “freeing ourselves from foreign oil”.

Obama’s re-election will pave the way for the delivery of his “all of the above” energy strategy that aims to develop every available source of US energy, including oil, gas, clean coal, wind, solar, biofuels and nuclear, while also taking steps to protect the climate.

However, his struggle to pass policies through Congress is set to continue as Republicans retained control in the House of Representatives, with Democrats gaining just two seats overall.

The news was welcomed by green groups, who had strongly opposed Romney’s stance on climate change, his plans to allow the Production Tax Credit for the wind industry to lapse at the end of this year and approve the Keystone XL tar sand pipeline.

However, the president will also face pressure to step up his action on tackling climate change, following modest progress over the last four years.

Andrew Steer, president of the World Resources Institute, said climate change should appear at the top of his agenda, especially in the wake of Superstorm Sandy that caused havoc in New York and other east-coast states.

He urged Obama to deliver a strong national climate and energy strategy, including putting a price on carbon.

“Many leading businesses are looking for greater clarity to stay competitive in the global economy and take advantage of the emerging $2.3 trillion clean-energy market,” he said.

“They need to set long-term goals, which are currently being undercut by America’s piecemeal approach on climate and energy.”

With just weeks to go until world leaders meet for the next round of United Nations Climate Change talks in Doha, Steer also called for the US to take a more active role in negotiations.

“President Obama has shown the power of bold leadership on big international issues and he has the opportunity to make an ambitious international climate agreement part of his legacy,” he said.

HSBC analyst Nick Robins said a second Obama Administration could also explore the potential for raising revenues from a carbon tax, as a means of significantly reducing America’s debt burden.

He cited Congressional Research Service figures which showed Obama could raise $154bn by 2021 by implementing a carbon tax starting at $20 per tonne of CO2, increasing by around six per cent per year.

“Applied to the Congressional Budget Office’s 2012 Baseline, this would halve the fiscal deficit by 2022,” he said.

Speaking at Prime Minister’s Questions, British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg highlighted climate change policy as an area where the UK and US could work together following Obama’s victory.

The initial focus of Obama’s climate change and energy efforts are likely to focus on extending the wind energy tax credit as soon as possible, accelerating efforts to regulate greenhouse gas emissions through the Environmental Protection Agency, and managing to fall out of Hurricane Sandy to highlight the need for more investment in climate change adaptation.

However, his ability to pass wide-ranging energy reforms and climate change legislation will depend in large part on the willingness of House Republicans to acknowledge the need for action.

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