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expert comment on Obama’s climate change speech

In a speech  at Georgetown University Obama launched his Climate Action Plan, introducing a spate of new regulations to help the US cut greenhouse gas emissions.


Professor Sir Brian Hoskins, Director of the Grantham Institute for Climate Change, Imperial College London, said:

“There has been important action on climate change in many US states, but I am very pleased to see this plan for Federal action. Reduction in US greenhouse gas emissions is crucial. Equally important is the proposed US leadership role in international negotiations.”


Nicholas Stern, Chair of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at London School of Economics and Political Science, said:

“President Obama’s speech was very clear on the scale of dangers posed by climate change and the responsibility of the United States and other countries to act. Recent experience shows that the United States can cut emissions and grow. The United States, with its technology and entrepreneurship, can lead this new low-carbon growth story. The President was right to place great emphasis on standards for cleaner power plants, accelerating renewables, energy efficiency standards in buildings, vehicles and appliances, and the importance of leadership by the public sector in implementing these standards. The President recognised as well the role of natural gas, but also saw it in a medium-term role and as bridge to cleaner technologies.

“There are will be new jobs in the United States in cleaner and more efficient technologies, and investment opportunities round the world. The low-carbon economy can create enormous potential growth for the private sector in the United States, and around the world.

“I am glad that President Obama emphasised the need for free trade in clean goods and services, and acknowledged the benefits of collaborating with China on phasing out HFCs. China and the United States can and should both go further in tackling climate change, for instance by increasing energy efficiency, and phasing out coal. China has been moving very strongly on this issue both in its current five-year plan and in preparations for the 13th five-year plan. There would be tremendous benefits if China and the United States could together show real international leadership on this issue. And it is time for Europe to stop hesitating and once again position itself at the forefront of global efforts.

“I welcome the President’s emphasis on help for developing countries to avoid the mistakes made by the rich industrial countries, including by sharing technologies and trying to find alternatives to coal. He is right to place an emphasis on finding ways to work together internationally and to reach an agreement between all countries at the United Nations climate change summit in Paris in 2015.

“I am glad that the President chose to close his speech with an appeal to young people to make the case and to press politicians for action. Our generation will be judged by the inheritance we leave.”


Bob Ward, Policy and Communications Director, Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, said:

“Viewed from outside the United States, it is great to see President Obama showing personal leadership on the issue of climate change. But without the support of Congress for new federal legislation, the President is fighting this battle with one hand tied behind his back. The latest figures show that annual greenhouse gas emissions from the United States in 2011 were 6.9 per cent below 2005 levels, compared with Mr Obama’s target of a reduction of 17 per cent by 2020. But emissions are still more than 8 per cent above 1990 levels, the international baseline. Moreover, these figures mean that Americans emit more than 20 tonnes of greenhouse gases per person each year. If the world is to have a reasonable chance of avoiding dangerous global warming of more than 2 centigrade degrees, emissions will have to be reduced to an average of no more than 2 tonnes per person by 2050. So there is a long way to go for the United States, and I hope the President will now take the argument to the American people and challenge the Republican Party, which is in a collective state of denial about climate change, to face up to the risks and opportunities. The Republican Party and their supporters in the media have been hoaxing the American people over the past few years by claiming that scientists are divided over the causes and potential consequences of climate change. Scientists across the world, including the United States National Academy of Sciences, are in agreement that the Earth is warming, humans are mainly responsible, and that if greenhouse gas emissions are not cut urgently, hundreds of millions of people will face huge risks from rising sea levels and changes in extreme weather. President Obama is right to accept the advice of scientists and to seek to protect Americans against the threat of climate change.”


Dr David Reay, Senior Lecturer in Carbon Management, University of Edinburgh, said:

“As President Obama packs his bags for a week-long trip to Africa, the international ramifications of his  new climate change plan must be on his mind. Any ambition for big cuts in greenhouse gas emissions in the US is somewhat hobbled by the Republican control of Congress but, with a ramped-up commitment to financing of the UN’s Green Climate Fund, Obama can still walk the talk on tackling global climate change.”


Professor Myles Allen, Head of the Climate Dynamics Group, University of Oxford, said:

“Focussing on the basics — long-term solutions to reduce carbon dioxide emissions — is exactly what is needed. In a nutshell, we started out with four trillion tonnes of fossil carbon underground. It has taken us 250 years to dump half a trillion tonnes into the atmosphere; if we carry on as we are, we’ll dump the next half-trillion in about 35 years; and the half-trillion after that will take us over two degrees. It really is that simple — but European and global climate policy is a well-intentioned mess, much of it irrelevant to real challenge of limiting total carbon emissions. Let’s hope America can get us back on course to a simple, effective long-term solution.”

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