Climate Change a Focus for President in Second Term

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Editor’s Note: The Climate Post will take a break from circulation Nov. 22, in observance of the Thanksgiving holiday. We will return Nov. 29. 

In his first press conference since being re-elected, President Barack Obama acknowledged he’ll focus on climate change in his second term. “I am a firm believer that climate change is real, that it is impacted by human behavior, and carbon emissions,” Obama said at a televised news conference on Wednesday. “And as a consequence, I think we’ve got an obligation to future generations to do something about it.”

Obama vowed to remain engaged in getting Republicans and Democrats to agree on a course of action on climate change, but not at the cost of jobs and economic growth. While he steered clear of making specific proposals for addressing climate change, Obama did offer this: “So what I am going to be doing over the next several weeks, the 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 short-term progress. You can expect that you will hear more from me in the coming months and years about how we can shape an agenda that garners bipartisan support and help moves this agenda forward.”

Meanwhile, Hurricane Sandy continues to drive attention to climate change. Most recently, a New York Daily News op-ed by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo stated New York “will not allow the national paralysis over climate change to stop us from pursuing the necessary path for the future” and “denial and deliberation from extremists on both sides about the causes of climate change are distracting us from addressing its inarguable effects.” Cuomo’s words may follow shifting public perception if a new Zogby poll is to be believed. It found that “half of Republicans, 73 percent of independents and 82 percent of Democrats saying they’re worried about the growing cost and risks of extreme weather disasters fueled by climate change.”

Fiscal Cliff Renews Debate about the Environment

The environment was a focus this week as the still newly re-elected President Obama faced negotiations over a metaphorical “fiscal cliff”—when the terms of the Budget Control Act of 2011 go into effect at the end of 2012, increasing taxes and putting in place spending cuts that could threaten environmental protections. Some have suggested a carbon tax as one means of avoiding the fiscal cliff, as it would curb climate change and help reduce the deficit. “It will be difficult for sure but we can back away from the fiscal cliff and the climate cliff at the same time,” former U.S. Vice President Al Gore said in an interview with The Guardian. “One way is with a carbon tax.” Obama didn’t specifically endorse that approach in a press conference Wednesday. According to The Hill, a Treasury Department official “did not rule out White House backing for a carbon tax as part of fiscal policy talks, but noted the administration isn’t going to propose one and that initiative would have to come from Republicans.” Earlier this week, Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist suggested a “carbon tax swap”—a tax on carbon offset by an income tax cut—might not violate his no-tax pledge. After he was criticized by a Koch-backed group, he reversed the statement he made prior.

A number of environmentally focused services remain at risk should lawmakers fail to avert the fiscal cliff. Among those threatened—energy efficiency and production. Mother Nature Network reports: “Sequestration would take $148 million away from the U.S. Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy program, according to the White House report, which Natural Resources Defense Council notes ‘would be equivalent to cutting the solar energy program at the Department of Energy in half, or equal to eliminating the entire wind and geothermal energy programs.’”

Country Eyeing California Cap-and-Trade Program

As Germany’s renewable energy institute, IWR, announced global carbon dioxide emissions rose 2.5 percent in 2011, California unveiled the nation’s first economy-wide carbon market to combat harmful emissions and potentially serve as a model for other states to fight climate change. The state’s cap-and-trade program requires businesses to purchase pollution allowances for going beyond their designated “cap” of greenhouse gases emissions. Despite a last-minute lawsuit by the California Chamber of Commerce alleging that the sale of allowances was an unconstitutional tax, the first auction moved forward.

The program was years in the making, designed with the assistance of the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, among others. It is now the second largest carbon market in the world behind the European Union. ThinkProgress pointed out four important things about the program. Among them: money from auctions will be used to invest in California’s clean energy future that could reach $11 billion a year by 2020. The price for carbon will also vary as the program evolves. As The Associated Press explains: “For the first two years of the program, large industrial emitters will receive 90 percent of their allowances for free in a soft start meant to give companies time to reduce emissions through new technologies or other means. The cap, or number of allowances, will decline over time in an effort to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.” The results of Wednesday’s closed, online auction will be available Nov. 19.

Meanwhile, the European Commission announced it will hold off requiring airlines based outside the European Union to pay for their carbon emissions until 2013—following threats of international retaliation. China, the United States, Russia and India opposed the charges, and the European Union plans had begun to cloud international trade relations. Around 30 governments that oppose the charges issued a joint declaration in February that cited possible retaliatory steps, such as imposing charges on European airlines.

Will the U.S. Be an Oil Giant Again?

Growing supplies of crude oil extracted through hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” could transform the United States into one of the largest oil producers within the next decade. By around 2020, the International Energy Agency (IEA) projects, the U.S. will be the world’s largest global oil producer, overtaking both Russia and Saudi Arabia. It further predicts the U.S. will be virtually self-sufficient within 25 years. The implications are many. “There is a shift in competitiveness,” said IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven. If production forecasts are borne out, “it will have a major impact on the return of industry to United States.”

Gas prices, however, are falling—reaching numbers we haven’t seen since 2011.

The Climate Post offers a rundown of the week in climate and energy news. It is produced each Thursday by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.