U.S. Falters Again on Global Climate Leadership Despite Small Steps at Home

Last month at the United Nations Climate Summit in New York, President Obama acknowledged America’s responsibility to act on climate change. On the eve of the U.N. Summit, hundreds of thousands of people marched on the streets of New York’s financial district and called for aggressive action from the private sector to curb global carbon emissions, which increased by 2.3% in 2013.

The U.N. Summit was convened to put pressure on industrialized countries to commit to reducing emissions in advance of the 21st round of U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) international negotiations (COP21) taking place next year in Paris. In the end, 74 countries and 1,000 companies pledged their support for a global price on carbon at the NY Summit and embraced a market solution to climate change. Unfortunately, the U.S. did not sign this declaration, yet again leaving such negotiations without fully committing to serious efforts to addressing this serious global threat. Despite our years of inaction and toothless signs of support internationally, here at home recent efforts by the Obama Administration to reduce nationwide carbon emissions, like the Clean Power Plan and various executive actions, have helped raise hopes that our country will eventually stand together with world leaders on international efforts.

During his speech at the U.N. Summit, President Obama announced an executive order that will require agencies to factor climate resilience into the design of their international development programs and investments. This order comes almost a year after another executive order created a national task force on climate preparedness and resilience. Some have balked at President Obama’s use of executive orders to address climate change, but in light of the Congressional failure to pass a national carbon cap-and-trade system in 2009, executive action appears currently to be one of the only effective routes left to reduce carbon emissions.

In June of this year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced the first carbon emission regulations for existing coal plants – the Clean Power Plan. The Clean Power Plan, as well as regulations to reduce carbon emissions from new coal plants, is part of the President’s Climate Action Plan that outlines plans to reduce national carbon emissions to 17% below 2005 levels by 2020. Despite being in draft form, the Clean Power Plan has become a politically divisive issue met with vocal opposition from conservatives.

How effective the Clean Power Plan will be in reducing our nation’s carbon emissions remains to be seen – the rule is set to be finalized in June 2015.  In light of a stagnant Congress and volatile political environment, however, it is clear that President Obama is making a concerted effort to push the United States to reduce its carbon emissions and finally emerge proactively working to address our fair share of contribution to global climate change.

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