Obama vows to move climate change agenda forward

President Obama yesterday committed to taking action on climate change a central component of his second term, promising to play a personal role in trying to make the US an “international leader” on climate change action.

The president used his first press conference since re-election to acknowledge that the administration had “not done as much as we need to” to develop climate change policies for its second term. But he insisted people could expect to “hear more from me in the coming months and years” on the need to move the climate change agenda forward.

“What I am going to be doing over the next several weeks, the next several months, is [have] a wide-ranging conversation with scientists, engineers and elected officials to find out what more we can do to make short-term progress in reducing carbon and then working through an education process that I think is necessary, a discussion, a conversation across the country about what realistically we can do long term to make sure that this is not something we are passing on to future generations that is going to be very expensive and very painful to deal with,” he said.

He also again highlighted the difference between the administration and those Republicans who continue to reject climate change science or underplay the need to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

“I am a firm believer that climate change is real, that it is impacted by human behaviour and carbon emissions, and, as a consequence, I think we’ve got an obligation to future generations to do something about it,” he said.

However, Obama also acknowledged he was “pretty certain” there is not sufficient bi-partisan support to deliver recent proposals for a national carbon tax, and stressed that he would not deliver environmental policies that caused unnecessary harm to the economy.

“There is no doubt that for us to take on climate change in a serious way would involve making some tough political choices, and, understandably, I think, the American people right now have been so focused and will continue to be focused on our economy and jobs and growth, that if the message is somehow we are going to ignore jobs and growth simply to address climate change, I don’t think anybody is going to go for that,” he said. “I won’t go for that.”

“If on the other hand we can shape an agenda that says we can create jobs, enhance growth and make a serious dent in climate change and be an international leader, I think that is something that the American people would support.”

The comments were immediately welcomed by green NGOs and businesses, and they urged the president to move quickly to turn his renewed commitment into tangible policy action.

Since Obama’s election victory hopes have been fuelled that a renewed focus from the White House could yet deliver wide-reaching energy reforms and the development of a more ambitious climate change policy environment. However, many Republicans remain fiercely opposed to any measures designed to tackle climate change or boost the green economy and experts counsel that the chances of an over-arching climate and energy bill being approved by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives remain slim.

But environmentalists remain hopeful that even without support from Congress the president can block the controversial Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline and continue to deliver demanding emissions performance standards for vehicles and power stations through the Environmental Performance Agency.

Green groups also called upon Obama yesterday to veto the bill passed earlier this week by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives that would make it illegal for US airlines to comply with the EU’s emissions trading scheme rules.

In other news, Reuters reported that BP is close to reaching a deal with the US Department of Justice (DoJ) that could see it plead guilty to criminal misconduct with regards to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster.

Sources close to the talks between the oil giant and the DoJ said the two parties were close to a deal that could see BP plead guilty to some form of misconduct in return for a waiver against future prosecution relating to the disaster.

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