US President Barack Obama

26 June 2013 — US President Barack Obama has used executive authority in an attempt to bypass “partisan gridlock” and deliver a climate change plan to reduce carbon emissions, increase clean energy production, and improve building, transport and product efficiency. Included in the plan is an expansion of the 2011 Better Buildings Initiative to apartments to help cut household energy waste.

In his address to Georgetown University, President Obama said climate change effects were already being felt in the US, and that there was no place for the “Flat Earth Society”.

“We know that the costs of these events can be measured in lost lives and lost livelihoods, lost homes, lost businesses, hundreds of billions of dollars in emergency services and disaster relief,” he said. “In fact, those who are already feeling the effects of climate change don’t have time to deny it – they’re busy dealing with it.”

“As a President, as a father, and as an American, I’m here to say we need to act,” he said. “I refuse to condemn your generation and future generations to a planet that’s beyond fixing.”

Obama said that he still wanted a “bipartisan, market-based solution” to climate change but, under the circumstances, had to move forward with other plans.

Carbon emissions from power plants

The first of these was putting standards on carbon emissions from power plants. He said that he would direct the Environmental Protection Agency to “put an end to the limitless dumping of carbon pollution from our power plants” by developing standards for new and existing power plants.

Clean energy

Second, he committed to “double again” the amount of clean energy the country was producing.

“Today, I’m directing the Interior Department to green light enough private, renewable energy capacity on public lands to power more than six million homes by 2020.”

The 2014 would include a 30 per cent increase in clean energy technology funding, to around $8 billion, though this budget would have to pass through Congress.

He said the Department of Defense, America’s biggest energy consumer, would install three gigawatts of renewable power on its bases, “generating about the same amount of electricity each year as you’d get from burning three million tons of coal”.

Tax breaks for oil

He also called on Congress to cut the tax breaks given to big oil companies, which he described as “the most profitable corporations in the history of the world”.

Gas

Obama did say though that natural gas would still be a key American energy source in the medium-term, but the government was working with industry to make drilling “safer and cleaner”.

Efficiency

Efficiency was the third issue to be tackled, though most announcements were extensions of already instigated plans.

“The energy we use in our homes and our businesses and our factories, our schools, our hospitals – that’s responsible for about one-third of our greenhouse gases,” Obama said.

Energy efficiency for building, including apartments

The 2011 announced Better Buildings Initiative that was designed to make buildings 20 per cent more efficient would be expanded to multifamily housing to help cut household energy waste.

The Better Buildings Accelerator would also be launched to encourage adoption of state and local policies to cut energy waste, partnering both with private and affordable building owners and public housing agencies to cut energy waste.

The Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service would also finalise an update to its Energy Efficiency and Conservation Loan Program, which would provide up to $250 million for rural utilities to finance efficiency investments by businesses and homeowners across rural America.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development would provide a $23 million Multifamily Energy Innovation Fund designed to enable affordable housing providers, technology firms, academic institutions, and philanthropic organisations to test new approaches to deliver cost-effective residential energy.

The efficiency plan’s goal is to reduce carbon pollution by three billion tons by 2030.

 Adaptation

Adaptation was also a key theme in the address, with the climate change policy including actions to support climate-resilient investments, a plan to create sustainable and resilient hospital buildings through a public-private partnership, and the production of climate preparedness tools.

Leadership

The final prong of the climate change policy was about leadership.

Obama said the country would “redouble our efforts” to engage the international community on climate change action.

“What we need is an agreement that’s ambitious – because that’s what the scale of the challenge demands,” he said.

No more public funding to coal plants and free trade for environmental goods

Obama also called for an end to public financing of new coal plants overseas, and directed the administration to launch negotiations towards global free trade of environmental goods and services, so that developing countries could skip the “dirty phase of development”.

The doomsayers are wrong

Obama spent much of the speech taking aim at conservatives and vested interests stalling action.

“What you’ll hear from the special interests and their allies in Congress is that this will kill jobs and crush the economy, and basically end American free enterprise as we know it,” he said.

“And the reason I know you’ll hear those things is because that’s what they said every time America sets clear rules and better standards for our air and our water and our children’s health. And every time, they’ve been wrong.

“The problem with all these tired excuses for inaction is that it suggests a fundamental lack of faith in American business and American ingenuity.

“These critics seem to think that when we ask our businesses to innovate and reduce pollution and lead, they can’t or they won’t do it.”