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Monday, July 13, 2009

Obama on Climate at G-8

Last week, President Obama told the other G-8 leaders that the U.S. plans to make some rather remarkable changes in terms of climate change policy. After dismissing all doubts about the science and calling for developing countries to make reductions in future emissions, the President said:
We also agree that developed countries -- like my own -- have a historic responsibility to take the lead. We have the much larger carbon footprint per capita, and I know that in the past, the United States has sometimes fallen short of meeting our responsibilities. So, let me be clear: Those days are over. One of my highest priorities as President is to drive a clean energy transformation of our economy, and over the past six months, the United States has taken steps towards this goal.

We've made historic investments in the billions of dollars in developing clean energy technologies...

We've also for the first time created a national policy raising our fuel-efficiency standards that will result in savings of 1.8 billion barrels of oil over the lifetime of vehicles sold in the next five years alone. And we just passed in our House of Representatives the first climate change legislation that would cut carbon pollution by more than 80 percent by 2050.

These are very significant steps in the United States.
It is far too early to rejoice, but these are important initiatives.

Indeed, it is relatively easy for politicians to make big promises about policy changes due over the course of four decades. Needless to say, they won't be around to assure followup. By contrast, it is far tougher to make costly investments in the short-term that have measurable benefits.

Rhetorically, it is also interesting that Obama used the same sort of unifying language globally that he employed in his 2008 political campaign:
It is no small task for 17 leaders to bridge their differences on an issue like climate change. We each have our national priorities and politics to contend with...

It's even more difficult in the context of a global recession, which I think adds to the fears that somehow addressing this issue will contradict the possibilities of robust global economic growth.

But ultimately, we have a choice. We can either shape our future, or we can let events shape it for us. We can fall back on the stale debates and old divisions, or we can decide to move forward and meet this challenge together. I think it's clear from our progress today which path is preferable and which path we have chosen. We know that the problems we face are made by human beings. That means it's within our capacity to solve them. The question is whether we will have the will to do so, whether we'll summon the courage and exercise the leadership to chart a new course. That's the responsibility of our generation, that must be our legacy for generations to come, and I am looking forward to being a strong partner in this effort.
At this July 2009 G-8 meeting, it sounded as if the U.S. under new management was trying to reclaim leadership on an important global issue and heal the so-called "transatlantic rift" that marked the Bush years (especially during his first term).

Especially given that the alleged U.S.-European divide never came close to full separation, it will be a lot easier for Obama to accomplish this political task than to take the kind of policy action necessary to stave off global climate chage.

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