Podesta: Next president could make or break US climate plans

Key Obama advisor says US-China pact could be vulnerable if climate sceptic takes White House in 2016

By Ed King

The next US president needs to be an Obama-style climate hawk for the country to have any hope of controlling its carbon emissions.

That’s the warning of John Podesta, one of Obama’s senior advisors and likely manager of Hilary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.

Podesta, who is widely believed to be the brains behind White House plans to cap greenhouse gas emissions of power plants, made the warning in an interview on Bloomberg TV.

“This is setting off a cycle of real innovation and investment in America so we can meet it so long as the next president doesn’t reverse course and throw the car into reverse,” he said.

“It’s gonna need a president who follows president Obama, who is committed to tackling the climate challenge.”

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Obama’s 2013 Climate Action Plan and subsequent proposals to address coal use are likely to be a blueprint for Clinton’s climate policies if she decides to run for the White House.

But a Republican opponent will probably have a vastly different take on how serious the threat of global warming is.

And because the White House has flexed its muscles and used its executive authority to bypass a hostile Congress, this means any new resident of the Oval Office could easily undo the work, threatening not only US targets but also a UN climate deal that is set to be signed off in December 2015.

Potential candidates – including Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Rick Santorum and Rand Paul – have suggested they do not believe humans are affecting the climate. Others such as Jeb Bush and Chris Christie tend to shy away from discussing the issue.

As RTCC revealed last week, many Republicans benefitted from huge sums of money from fossil fuel lobby groups in the recent mid-term elections, with around US$100 million alone coming from the fossil fuel magnate Koch brothers.

Incoming Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell has branded Obama’s plans a “war on coal,” while his colleague and House of Representatives speaker John Boehner says they are “killing American jobs”.

Both men say they will use their control over Capitol Hill from January 2015 to try and stop the White House climate plans, and push through construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, which was rejected by the Senate this week.

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McConnell has also said that the US-China pact gives Beijing a free pass to pollute until 2030, when it has agreed to cap emissions. That’s a claim Podesta strongly rejected.

“These guys say they’re not scientists – evidently they’re not economists or they wouldn’t make observations [like this],” he said.

“If you are going to produce that much zero carbon power from renewables and nuclear you can’t start in 2030 and finish the job in the same year. It’s a bogus charge and I think they know it.”

The Washington DC veteran, who first worked at the White House for Bill Clinton in the 1990s, also offered a unique insight into how the US-China agreement came to pass.

While many have stressed the importance of secret letters between the two presidents, Podesta said it ultimately came down to face-to-face meetings. One between Obama and vice premier Zhang Gaoli on the sidelines of the UN’s New York climate summit in September was especially significant, Podesta indicated.

“There was a private meeting between President Obama and Zhang and at that time the Chinese side indicated that they’d like to take up the US offer of a joint announcement of our post 2020 climate targets,” he said.

This sparked a month of intensive diplomacy between Beijing and Washington, said Podesta, involving “arm wrestling” over texts.

But despite agreement over the wording of the pledges, which saw China target a greenhouse gas emissions peak in 2030, and the US aim for carbon cuts of 26-28% by 2025, no final sign-off was given until a final meeting between the two leaders on Tuesday 11 November.

“The deal didn’t finally close till Monday night. The President saw Xi on Tuesday, and they sealed the deal at that time,” Podesta said.

“By then we had a text that both sides agreed to, and it was announced on Wednesday.”

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