It's a Long Road to Copenhagen: Here's What Obama Needs to Do So That The US Leads the World on Climate Change

wind turbine in front of smokestack photo

photo: Roland Peschetz

Earlier in the week both Secretary of State Clinton and her designated special climate change envoy Todd Stern made comments that confirmed that climate change will (finally), after years of willful obfuscation, be taken seriously at the highest levels of US government. But it’s not just the US that needs to act, some sort of global climate change agreement must be implemented as a successor to the Kyoto Protocol. In a new piece for Yale Environment 360 Michael Northrop and David Sassoon outline what they think President Obama needs to do before the Copenhagen global climate change talks in December:Climate Change Is More Than an Environmental Issue
After praising Obama’s choices science advisor, head of NOAA and the DoE, Northrop and Sassoon go on to say that Obama needs to instruct his cabinet to better incorporate climate change into their respective portfolios. It’s been said before, but bears repeating, that climate change is far far more than an environmental issue: It will have an effect on national security, globalization, agricultural policy, public health and safety, land use planning... Few areas of life will be untouched by it.

Regulating CO2 As Pollutant Will Send Powerful Signal
The authors go on to say that Obama must personally attend the meetings in Copenhagen, and arrive having made real legislation and regulatory achievements beforehand. They single out one thing as being a key part of Obama’s regulatory strategy:

The boldness of Obama’s regulatory strategy, however, really hinges upon the fate of coal-burning power plants under the Clean Air Act. Since the Supreme Court affirmed in Massachusetts v. EPA that carbon dioxide could be regulated as a pollutant under the law, it has become an open question as to how existing coal plants and permits for new ones will now fare under the act. The EPA plainly has the right to control CO2 emissions, and the real issue is how aggressively the law will be applied. In the short term, the question of coal rests largely in Obama’s hands, and he has the authority to stop new dirty coal plants cold. He proved it his first week in office when the EPA revoked an air permit for the Big Stone II coal plant in South Dakota, pending further review.

If that first signal gets amplified, it will certainly change the tone of what happens with coal in Congress longer-term, where powerful lobbies have held science at bay.

For all of Northrop and Sassoon’s suggestion for Obama, check out: What Obama Must Do On the Road to Copenhagen
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