Obama: US to become leader in climate protection | Americas| North and South American news impacting on Europe | DW | 26.06.2013
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Obama: US to become leader in climate protection

US President Barack Obama may have just enough time to reach the climate protection goals he set for his administration, experts say. His plan calls for a reduction in carbon-dioxide emissions from US power plants.

The United States, which has put the brakes on climate policies at many international conferences, is now aiming for a lead role in climate protection. "My administration will redouble our efforts to engage our international partners in reaching a new global agreement to reduce carbon pollution through concrete action," Obama said in his speect at Georgetown University in Washington DC.

Fighting greenhouse gases

Obama's plans include restricting the CO2 emissions of all US power plants. The plants, most of which are powered by coal, are responsible for roughly one third of the US's greenhouse gas emissions, which contribute to global climate change. The president also intends to throw a lot of support behind more eco-friendly technologies like solar and wind power.

WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 25: U.S. President Barack Obama speaks as he unveils his plan on climate change June 25, 2013 at Georgetown University in Washington, DC. President Obama laid out his plan to diminish carbon pollution and prepare the country for the impacts of climate change. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Obama renewed his emphasis on reducing CO2 emissions

"This is by far the most important commitment that the United States has ever made to deal with climate change, both domestically and internationally," Paul Bledsoe from the German Marshall Fund in Washington told DW. "Not only is the president going to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from the US electric power sector for the first time ever, he is also pledging to begin bilateral negotiations with other major emitters around the world, including, for example, China and India."

Time is running out

China is currently the No. 1 emitter of greehouse gases, ahead of the the United State and the EU. But Obama did not address what the international talks would look like or when they would begin.

At the 2009 climate conference in Copenhagen, the president and other international leaders said that by 2020 they would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent compared to 2005.

A demonstrator holds up a sign during a march past the White House to protest against the Keystone XL pipeline in Washington, February 17, 2013. The TransCanada Corp pipeline would link the oil sands of northern Alberta, the world's third largest crude resource, to refineries and ports in Texas. Environmentalists say approval of the pipeline will encourage more development in the oil sands, where extraction is carbon intensive, leading to greater greenhouse gas emissions. REUTERS/Richard Clement (UNITED STATES - Tags: ENVIRONMENT POLITICS CIVIL UNREST ENERGY)

Many environmentalists strongly oppose the Keystone pipeline, like this protester in Washington last winter.

Experts say that Obama's speech was the important starting signal for working toward these goals. With just over three years left in his second term, experts said they think that it's possible for the president to reach his goal despite proposing time-consuming initiatives that will require the support and coordination of companies concerned.

Bypassing Congress

Contrary to his first initiative for climate protection five years ago, US Congress does not have to approve the president's plan. Republicans, who have the majority in the lower house of Congress, stonewalled and nothing happened. In his first attempt, Obama wanted to reduce emissions by putting a price on them. Experts and environmentalists still think this is the cheapest and most effective method.

"The biggest thing is, we need to put a price on carbon pollution," Daniel Kessler from the environmentalist group 350 org told DW. "We can't allow the biggest climate offenders to pollute our skies for free."

Re-examine Keystone pipeline

Kessler said Obama's environmental goals do not go far enough to ensure the necessary climate protection.

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World is at stake, Obama says

Critics acknowledge that the president has announced another investigation into the sustainability of the contentious Keystone project. If approved and built, the Keystone pipeline will transport oil from Canada into the US - oil that has a high percentage of environmentally damaging carbon dioxide. Republicans were quick to criticize this re-examination. They generally consider Obama's climate package bad for the economy and are afraid it will stall the economic upturn.

He might not be able to win over the Republicans, but it seems like Obama has managed to get the American people on his side. He used the example of Hurricane Sandy to highlight the connection between climate change and extreme weather conditions. The disasters have, it seems, sensitized Americans to those developments, according to Bledsoe of the German Marshall Fund in Washington.

"Climate change is here and now and the American people are starting to realize it," he said. "The Republican Party has yet to recognize how important an issue this is. And I suspect this is going to change over the next few years."

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