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Climate Change Policy: The Good News and the Challenge Ahead

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When it comes to the outlook for climate and energy policy under President-elect Barack Obama and the 111th Congress, there's the good news, and then there are the serious challenges that we must work together to confront in the critical year that lies ahead.

The good news is that 30 national organizations working to combat global warming, including 1Sky and all members of the "Green Group" (the largest environmental organizations in the country), came together on a set of recommendations delivered to President-elect Obama earlier this month that emphasized the need to embrace the science-based targets for global warming emissions reductions outlined by the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). In that document, we said:

"According to the [IPCC], we have a reasonable chance of meeting this objective if developed countries as a whole cut their emissions 25-40% from 1990 levels by 2020 and at least 80% by 2050; within this time frame, major developing countries as a whole must also act promptly to slow their emissions growth and then substantially reduce their emissions. To be within this range in 2020, the U.S. would have to reduce its emissions by 35% from current levels."

It was the first time we were all standing together on the science, and it was an important way to begin the conversation with an impressive new ally in the White House and a new Congress to work with.

The other good news is that Obama addressed the Governor's Global Climate Summit yesterday and in his speech he committed himself very clearly to a new chapter in leadership on climate change, and to implementing a federal cap and trade system that would get us to the 80% reductions by 2050 the IPCC says we must achieve -- at a minimum -- to avoid cataclysmic climate impacts. He reinforced what we all know -- that climate change is irrefutable, and that it will continue to weaken our economy and our national security if we don't address it. And he reiterated his commitment to creating 5 million new jobs in this country (a direct embrace of the 1Sky Solutions) through energy efficiency and investments in solar, wind, and advanced biofuels.

So -- our work is done, right? Wrong.

In his remarks yesterday the President-elect reiterated his prior commitment to get emissions down to 1990 levels by 2020 -- when the IPCC has said clearly that we must achieve at least 25% reductions from 1990 levels by 2020, and our international counterparts are standing by awaiting leadership on that scale as they prepare for their negotiations in Poznan in December 2008, and in Copenhagen in December 2009. Obama's near term targets must be much stronger if we are to tackle this problem, and if we are to demonstrate the leadership he is clearly committed to providing at a global level.

The other challenge we face is that Obama reiterated his commitment to "clean coal" which, as I have said before, is a myth, and while he talked about continued reliance on nuclear energy, there was no mention of geothermal alongside wind and solar as smart, renewable energy alternatives. As my colleague David Orr is famous for saying, "nuclear is a very expensive way to boil water," not to mention the security risks it presents.

I hate to be the naysayer, because I am as excited as anyone else about the hope and potential President-elect Obama presents. But I take him at his word when he says we have to work together to get where we are going, and that he will be listening carefully -- most of all when we disagree. I was somewhat disheartened to see the slew of entirely celebratory press statements yesterday coming from my colleagues in the field -- none of which took issue with the ways in which Obama's remarks deviated from what we called for just a week ago in a unified set of recommendations.

But perhaps the biggest challenge we face is getting Congress behind the President-elect. We need 218 votes in the House to pass strong climate legislation, and depending on who is counting we are upwards of 150. And we need 60 votes in the Senate -- we don't even break 50 if we are talking about standing with the science. That is why yesterday, 1Sky, Energy Action, 350.org and a range of our other allies nationally mobilized more than 4,000 people to visit all 435 Congressional districts in every state in the country, welcoming the 111th Congress and urging them to work with President-elect Obama to:


  • Create 5 million new green jobs and pathways out of poverty focused on climate solutions and energy efficiency;

  • Reduce global warming pollution at least 25% below 1990 levels by 2020 and at least 80% below 1990 levels by 2050;

  • Impose a moratorium on new coal plants that emit global warming pollution and end our dependence on oil through strong standards and incentives for energy efficiency and renewable energy.


We need you now more than ever -- we are about to launch our Climate Precinct Captains campaign, with a goal to identify and engage voluntary Climate Precinct Captains in all 435 Congressional districts in the country by early 2009, and to move from there into all 300,000 voting precincts nationwide. Sign up now and put yourself on the map!

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