Obama pledges climate change leadership in second term

By John Parnell

President Obama has pledged more work on climate change during his second term and to use green growth to develop national support for the climate agenda.

Speaking at his first press conference since re-election, Obama said consultations on this new push would begin immediately.

“What I’m going to be doing over the next several weeks, next several months, is having a conversation, a wide-ranging conversation with scientists, engineers, and elected officials to find out what more we can do to make a short-term progress in reducing carbon,” he said.

President Obama told a press conference that people could expect to hear more from him on climate change in the coming years. (Source:APEC)

He added that the resulting message must not appear to be at the cost of the economy as this would not win the backing of the public or the bi-partisan support required in Washington.

“If, on the other hand, we can shape an agenda that says we can create jobs, advance growth, and make a serious dent in climate change and be an international leader, I think that’s something that the American people would support.

“So you can expect that you’ll hear more from me in the coming months and years about how we can shape an agenda that garners bipartisan support and helps move this agenda forward,” he said.

There are growing calls for President Obama to establish a carbon tax with former vice-Presidential candidate turned climate advocate Al Gore adding his weight to the claims.

Gore joins a swathe of NGOs calling for the newly elected, and emboldened, President to examine the potential of tax on big polluters.

HSBC’s Nick Robins, head of the bank’s Climate Change Centre, told the Sydney Morning Herald that a tax of $20 per tonne of CO2 equivalent would halve the country’s deficit by 2022 compared to the 2012.

Doha UN talks

A domestic tax on US carbon emissions would be warmly welcomed at the UN climate change negotiations in Doha this month, where the country’s position is often criticised.

UN climate change chief Christiana Figueres told RTCC the election result had given the USA a window of opportunity to increase its ambition on the domestic and global stage.

“The United States now has the opportunity with a clear political mandate, because we all heard President Obama’s acceptance speech that he’s not willing to look at a future threatened by increasing global temperatures,” she said.

“So they do have the opportunity to use everything that they already have in place, to take it one step further at the domestic level and at the international level to strengthen their participation both with their support for developing countries and what they are doing as well as increase their leadership to ensure that governments will take on a universal agreement in 2015,” she added.

Despite an imminent restructuring of tax in the US as it approaches the so-called “fiscal cliff”, the probability of a carbon tax remains low.

“There is definitely press attention around the possibility, and some folks have moved a carbon tax from the ‘almost impossible’ category into the ‘long shot’ category,” said Brandon Wu, senior policy analyst at ActionAid USA.

“We would certainly support a carbon tax that is designed to be progressive and revenue-raising – this is a huge opportunity both to disincentivise greenhouse gas emissions and, just as importantly, raise money for climate finance and other social goods,” added Wu.

There have been discussions among several think tanks in the US about a new carbon tax that is offset by tax cuts elsewhere, thought to be a more appealing deal to Republicans. This however, would make no net contribution to deficit reduction, but would encourage emission reductions from industry.

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