Ten days after being elected, then President-elect Obama put a stake in the ground on climate change – – he announced at the Governors’ Global Climate Summit in Los Angeles that the US would adopt the world-leading policies of California for the United States. Reduce greenhouse gases (GHGs) 80% by 2050 and, to make a substantial down-payment, cut them to 1990 levels by 2020. Of course the EU has agreed to deeper cuts in the near term (but they got started sooner), but no nation had committed to such a dramatic cut as California – – and now the U.S.
Then, before the inauguration night party hangovers had faded in DC, President Obama quietly told his USEPA to get started regulating GHGs as pollutants under the federal Clean Air Act (consistent with a Supreme Court ruling along those lines two years ago) to make good on his pledge. He adopted California’s vehicle emission standards to slash GHGs from transportation and got ailing car companies to stand with him, even if their smiles were parked in Detroit, as he made the announcement in the Rose Garden. The President also proposed a cap-and-trade system in his first budget and supported the Waxman-Markey climate bill that recently passed the House.
Now, our President goes to the G8 Summit and extracts a pledge by developed nations to endorse his goals, while also snagging a huge concession from developing nations. Myopic critics complain that the big boys didn’t go far enough, but they have completely missed the significance of the breakthrough. All of the world leaders – – developed and developing nations alike – – have now embraced the goal of keeping the average global temperature rise to no more than 2 degrees Celsius. To accomplish that, all nations will have to make significant short term GHG cuts as well as the important long term changes.
Not bad for less than six months on the job. Even more impressive, he’s doing this relatively quietly, building the edifice a few bricks at a time without much fanfare, but clearly focused on an impressive finished product. A few more successes like this and the “secret weapon” will be a secret no longer. Remember he does all of this and still manages to get a night on the town in Paris with his wife. Now that’s impressive!