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2013 in review: Obama talks climate change – but pushes fracking

US President Barack Obama

Barack Obama unveils his plan on climate change in June at Georgetown University in Washington, DC. Photograph: Alex Wong/Getty Images


Powered by article titled “2013 in review: Obama talks climate change – but pushes fracking” was written by Suzanne Goldenberg, US environment correspondent, for on Friday 20th December 2013 13.26 UTC

This was the year when climate change came out of the closet.

Barack Obama elevated climate change to one of his top presidential priorities. White House and other officials brought up the topic in public after spending the previous four years scuttling away from any mention of climate change. Climate change became a factor in state elections and there were polls suggesting even Republicans in the most conservative states wanted to take measures to avoid a future of dangerous climate change.

But it was also a year when Obama claimed as a personal achievement the expansion of oil and gas production through hydraulic fracturing, and when the coal industry sent coal overseas to rescue the mines closing down at home.

Barack Obama used the 21 January inaugural address for his second term in the White House to renew his commitment to respond to the climate crisis “knowing that failure to do so would betray our children and future generations”.

He linked climate change to hurricane Sandy and the other extreme weather events of 2012 and took a swipe at climate deniers.

He was even more forceful in his first State of the Union address on 12 February seizing the moment to put Republicans on notice: “If Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will.”

He said he would direct government, including the Environmental Protection Agency, to use its authority to cut greenhouse gas emissions, promote renewable energy, and protect communities from future climate change.

Obama delivered on that promise on 25 June in another landmark speech in which he directed the Environmental Protection Agency to take measures to cut emissions from new and existing power plants.

Protest Against Keystone XL Pipeline in U.S.

Environmental activists opposed to the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline project protest outside the White House in Washington. Photograph: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

The president also raised hopes that he would block the Keystone XL pipeline, which would open up new routes for crude from the Canadian tar sands, saying he would weigh the project’s climate impacts when making his decision.

Power plants account for about 40% of America’s carbon dioxide emissions, the largest source of carbon pollution. The directive put America back on track towards meeting its commitment to cut greenhouse gas emissions 17% from 2005 levels by the end of this decade.

“This is the year when they really started acting,” said Andrew Steer, president of the World Resources Institute. “I see a little more muscularity.”

It was also – possibly – the year when climate change ceased to be seen as political poison.

In the Virginia governor’s race, Democrat Terry McAuliffe ran television ads attacking his opponent, Ken Cuccinelli, as a climate change denier, and won. A number of polls suggested Republicans, even in conservative states, were growing concerned about climate change and wanted action.

“We see a political dynamic in motion that is headed in a good direction,” Peter Altman, the climate director for the Natural Resources Defence Council, told a conference call with reporters.

In the states, right-wing efforts to repeal regulations requiring power companies to use wind and solar power were defeated in Kansas, North Carolina and Ohio.


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