President Obama’s Second-Term Plan To Address Climate Change

h/t: Adam Peck

On Tuesday, at 1:55 p.m. in a speech at Georgetown University, President Obama will tell the country in detail how he will address climate change during his second term.

The plan, according to senior administration officials, has three pillars: cutting carbon pollution in America, leading international efforts to cut global emissions, and preparing the U.S. for the costly impacts of climate change. President Obama will frame action as a moral obligation to do what we can for “the world we leave our children.”

Executive action remains one of the only serious avenues left to cut greenhouse gas emissions — a recent National Academy of Sciences report found that the U.S. tax code is not currently doing it, and congressional action still looks unlikely. Jay Carney, White House Press Secretary, said in his briefing Monday that the president’s view “reflects reality.” Carney said “we’ve seen Congress attempt to deal with this issue and fail to.”

On Friday, Climate Progress laid out ten steps the President could take that would make an absolute difference in reducing carbon pollution.

Here are the major elements of the climate plan that the president will discuss today:

Cutting carbon: Direct the EPA, through Presidential Memorandum, to finish carbon pollution standards for new plants (this year) and existing power plants (proposed rule in a year). Right now carbon pollution from power plants -– the largest uncontrolled domestic source of climate pollution -– is unlimited.

Increasing renewables: Set a goal to double electricity fueled by renewable energy by 2020 nationally. This will be kickstarted by a goal of 10 gigawatts’ worth of permits for renewable energy projects on public lands by 2020. Another Presidential Memorandum streamlines electric grid transmission projects across the country. Increase the federal government renewable target from the current 7.5 percent to 20 percent by 2020.

Get smarter: Conduct the first-ever Quadrennial Energy Review, focusing on infrastructure and investment. Aggregate energy data from federal facilities using the “Green Button” standard. Launch a Climate Data Initiative, which makes federal climate-related data available to the public, encouraging innovation and climate preparedness.

Fuel efficiency: The administration will develop post-2018 fuel economy standards for heavy-duty vehicles, building upon 2011’s first-ever such standards.

Appliances and buildings: Establish goal that current efficiency standards for appliances and federal buildings will reduce carbon pollution by more than 3 billion metric tons by 2030.

Efficient housing: Try innovative approaches to developing cost-effective energy delivery to multifamily housing. Federally subsidized housing stock will strive toward a goal of 100 megawatts of installed renewable capacity by 2020 as well. Find options to factor energy efficiency into the mortgage process. Expand Better Buildings Challenge to make multifamily housing more efficient.

Super pollutant cuts: Reduce emissions of super pollutant HFCs by encouraging cleaner refrigerant alternatives.

Efficient country: Reduce upfront costs by increasing efficiency loans to rural utilities and farmers.

Methane corked: Discover how much methane is leaking into the atmosphere and pursue solutions across federal and state governments and the private sector.

“Advanced fossil energy”: Loosen $8 billion in loan guarantees for “advanced fossil energy projects.” The goal is to cut emissions through efficiency or eliminating consumption, yet it remains an investment in continued greenhouse gas emissions.

Deforestation: Promote forest conservation in the U.S. and abroad.

Climate-resilient investments: Promote building and planning for the impacts of extreme weather at federal and local levels. Direct agencies to integrate climate risk-management into infrastructure and resource planning. Rebuild from storms like Sandy in a climate-resilient manner.

Understanding climate resilience: Identify how climate change impacts agriculture, ecosystem conservation, tourism, natural resources, health care, insurance, and safety. Work with local stakeholders to arrive at solutions and precautions, such as taking sea level rise into account when forming flood risk reduction standards.

Addressing climate on a global scale: Lead bilateral and multilateral efforts with countries around the globe to cut emissions and address climate change. Continue to support low emission development strategies. Support developing countries with investments in clean energy sources, or more efficient fossil fuel plants when necessary.

UN treaty: Seek a global climate agreement in 2015 that is ambitious, inclusive and flexible.

Some of these are new policy proposals, and some refer to important delayed policy options that, if enacted, would have a measurable impact on U.S. carbon emissions. Others are more of a recommitment to do things the government was already doing, while still others appear to be well-meaning procedural window-dressing.

The plan also continues the embrace of natural gas as a “bridge fuel” even though indications (for instance, from NOAA) warn that methane leakage undermines many of the benefits of the cleaner-than-coal fuel. Promises within the plan to promote nuclear energy and “clean coal” are similarly indicative of an all-of-the-above strategy that has one foot in the energy sources of the past, even as it takes steps toward a clean energy economy paired with serious carbon reductions.

So which is it? Dan Lashof of the National Resources Defense Council said the plan was a critical part of tackling the American carbon footprint: “This plan takes aim at the heart of the problem: the dangerous carbon pollution from our power plants. Reducing that pollution is the most important step we can take, as a nation, to stand up to climate change.”

Others were not as enthusiastic. Coal stock shares dropped yesterday. Sarah Palin tweeted that the speech would feature something called an “anti-Made in America energy mandate.” John Boehner labeled the plan “absolutely crazy” several days before details even emerged.

On paper, the plan, if implemented quickly and decisively (which means also supported by a robust legal and public defense against the certain fusillade from Republican and industry groups), could be fairly consequential given the realities of current congressional dysfunction. Whether or not Keystone XL is approved, the U.S. needs to cut emissions a great deal, and there are things in the plan that could kickstart that process. To roll back carbon pollution with the intent of avoiding catastrophic global warming will require more.

The only thing to do is listen to the president give his full speech. Watch the livestream here and weigh in with your reactions.

31 Responses to President Obama’s Second-Term Plan To Address Climate Change

  1. Superman1 says:

    It would be valuable to see a quantified version of his proposals placed in the context of what Kevin Anderson says we need in order to avoid the climate cliff.

  2. Mark E says:

    I’ll make my assessment after the mid term election.

    For now, this sort of sounds like decorating your Christmas Tree with a long garland of wishes,

    …… since there is no money in the budget.

    Coal plant regs sounds promising, as does work on the grid and the quadrennial energy review. But will those items survive the next GOP whitehouse?

  3. This should be strategically important–putting climate change squarely on the federal agenda.

    I wish I could be enthusiastic. I’m holding at cautiously optimistic. We all know these actions by themselves aren’t enough. They would have been a good start 20 years ago. But if they do survive into the next administration, if they do create the needed awareness, then better to try later than never.

    These actions can be built on. To have some kind of framework in place will make it easier for follow-on action, particularly if we’re lucky enough to get climate signals that persuade more people of the imminence of the threat, but don’t indicate we’ve past the point of no return.

  4. Dimitar Mirchev says:

    Cut the fracking fossil fuel subsidies already!

  5. Matthew Tanner says:

    We’ll all be waiting with bated breath.

  6. Jeff Huggins says:


    I wish CP would provide the numbers with which we could have some context and begin to assess what the President proposes. I’ll provide some below, but I hope that CP will check them and improve upon them if I’ve somehow made a mistake.

    Readers here will recognize that two different aims have been discussed recently, the President’s apparent aim:

    * reduce GHG pollution by 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020

    And the aim from a recent report (covered in earlier CP posts) stating how much emissions must be reduced if we are to limit warming to 2 deg C:

    * “developed countries must reduce their emissions by 50 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 if we are to have a medium chance of limiting warming to 2 deg C”

    How are these aims different, and what are the nums?

    Here are the figures, to the best of my ability to find them quickly:

    From the EPA’s report, “Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990-2011”, Table ES-2, “Recent Trends in U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks”:

    In 1990, the United States’ GHG emissions totaled 6,183.3 million metric tons CO2 Eq., and the net emissions were 5,388.7.

    The comparable figures for 2005 were 7,195.3 and 6,197.4, respectively.

    So, (get this), a 17 percent reduction in the total GHG emissions from 2005 levels results in emissions of 5,972.1. That is the President’s aim, apparently, by 2020.

    Note that this is NOWHERE NEAR the 50 percent reduction from the 1990 level, which would result in emissions of 3,091.7.

    Indeed, note that the 17-percent-below-2005 level results in emissions that are only a slight amount less than the 1990 level itself, let alone a 50 percent decrease from that level!

    Of course, none of this is new, and I’m not (to be sure) the first or even the ten-thousandth person to note this; but I find the lack of this sort of numerical context to be problematic, here, and this context should be available to people who are trying to interpret what the President will say later today.

    (I hope that CP will correct these numbers if any of them are off, and in their place provide a more accurate comparison of the two aims mentioned above, including any other context that might help people assess the President’s program within the larger context of what needs to be done.)

    Thanks and Be Well,


  7. Sasparilla says:

    I think you said perfectly it Change.

  8. SuperLib says:

    GOP whitehouse? You’re kidding right? Clinton is going to run, no doubt about it, and she will sweep the floor with any and all GOP contenders. Can’t wait…. Clinton/Warren 2016!!

  9. Sasparilla says:

    As “A Change In Weather” said above, these proposals are totally inadequate and way too late….however if the president does this, they can be built upon and they would give us the biggest gain we can expect here (in my opinion) – a change in the direction of momentum on climate change in the U.S..

    That may not seem like much, but it would be huge with regards to the possibility of future climate action.

    Having things move in the right direction (at the Federal Level how long has it been) would be a welcome change, I’ll take that, if he actually follows through.

  10. Sasparilla says:

    While your totally right Dimitar, you have to have the Republican House of Representatives and the politically bought off U.S. Senate go along to make this happen.

    The House in particular is much more likely to outlaw green energy before cutting subsidies to their fossil fuel masters.

  11. Mike Roddy says:

    Obama and his handlers obviously care more about “the economy” than the strong possibility that we are hurtling toward extinction.

    He won’t propose a carbon tax, won’t close coal plants, and will continue to tout gas as a clean bridge fuel. Hell, he’s even exempting refineries from pollution regulations. For those reasons, I won’t turn on the TV. It would be too painful.

  12. Sasparilla says:

    Nicely done Jeff. Lou has some excellent graphs over on his blog showing the situation easily.

    Note we’d need to be down to ~3000 by 2020 to meet the 50% from 1990 levels.

  13. Dennis Tomlinson says:

    I’m curious as to why the choice of 1:35PM ET. Why not prime time, 9:00PM?

  14. Jeff Huggins says:

    Underscores the Crucial Importance of …

    All this underscores the crucial importance of nominating and electing someone (in the next presidential election, 2016) who will genuinely and courageously lead an effective effort to address climate change in 2017-2020. If what the scientists say about timing and urgency is roughly right — and it most likely is, of course — then what we don’t get done between today and late 2016 (i.e., during Obama’s administration), we MUST get done in the following several years.

    That’s why I’ve been repeatedly suggesting to CP and CAP, and also to the Sierra Club, and also (here) to Bill McKibben and, that organizations and people who have platforms and public voices should begin, now, to vet would-be Democratic nominees with respect to their positions on climate change, and to find out those positions in clear and concrete terms.

    As an example, we should be asking Hillary Clinton, clearly and persistently, this timely and concrete question: “How would you rule with respect to Keystone XL if you were president today — that is, if it were your decision to make? Would you approve it or deny approval? Please be clear, forthright, and decisive. Thanks.”

    It should be obvious, that we should do whatever it takes to find out and test the positions and commitments of would-be Democratic nominees for President, starting ASAP. Hillary is already running, in effect, and it would behoove us to understand her position, her commitment, and her ability to lead (and to be straightforward and to make tough decisions!) BEFORE it is the case that she gains the nomination by mere momentum or default. If we don’t want to end up in the same position four years from now as we’re in today, we should start acting now to make sure that the next leader we nominate and elect is the right one and up to the task.

    This should be obvious to anyone who has been awake for the last six years, so can we agree that CP and CAP, the Sierra Club,, the “progressive media”, and all of us should “get on this” starting now?

    Cheers and Be Well,


  15. Lou Grinzo says:

    In watching this event unfold, I am reminded yet again of one of my favorite lines from Apollo 13, in the scene where the grounded astronaut (Gary Sinise) is arguing with an engineer over how to create an acceptable power-up sequence for the Command Module. The engineer gets frustrated and says, “You’re telling me what you need and I’m telling you what you’ve got.”

    In the present situation, both the scientists (and the scientist wannabes, like me) and the politicians (and the amateur wonks, like me) are, in effect, shouting this line at each other. The science camp is saying that we have limits on what we can “safely” emit imposed by physics, ecology, our existing infrastructure, etc. We simply have to constrain our emissions.

    The political camp is divided between those who see short-term benefit in denying science and catering to the most selfish and myopic voters, and those who know we “must” do something about our emissions but are convinced we “can’t” for political reasons, i.e. politics is the science of the possible, and all that. The former group is beneath contempt and needs to be voted out of office so they can work as lobbyists for the coal miners and frackers. The latter group will, I’m sure, tell you behind closed doors that if they push too hard on a climate agenda it will lead to them being voted out of office and then the deniers and industry prostiticians will be in charge and things will really go to hell in a hand basket.

    What’s the solution to this interlocking mess? Voters and consumers. Get enough of them moving in the same direction and I guarantee that politicians, corporations, NGOs, etc. will all fall into line faster than you can say “albedo flip”.

  16. Mark E says:

    Whoa — slow down there, friend.

    If Congressional Dems brush global warming aside or give it token lip service in their mid term campaigns….

    Clinton may face a strongly split ticket, as the climate vote turns to the Green Party.

    Either congressional dems are useful on this issue – or they ain’t.

  17. Mark E says:

    The Obama WH could easily publicize

    (1) the extent of those subsidies

    (2) the amount of federal lands opened to drilling and mining

    (3) the money the fed gets for that leasing

    (4) all compared to fossil fuel companies profits


    Show the people a simple table and a few charts of all that, and its a game changer.

    Only reason for Obama does NOT do that, and talk about such charts in front of the cameras, is because he CHOOSES not to do that.

    I’ll be happy to hear different today, but I’m not expecting any of these items to be in the speech or followup action.

  18. Mike Roddy says:

    You’re right, Lou, but the media is indistinguishable from Exxon and Peabody. Most Americans have no idea what we’re up against. People like us, who’ve taken the trouble to study the scientific literature, are a harmless splinter group.

    My idea is a well funded and organized media monitoring organization that would not only call our media companies to acocunt, but announce periodic advertiser boycotts. It may not work on its own, but would be a hook to wake people up.

  19. BillD says:

    I’ve written to my (conservative) Democratic Senator Joe Donnelly asking him to support the president. It’s a good time to write to our senators and representatives, no matter what their current positions or lack of positions on this topic.

  20. prokaryotes says:

    Good to see that there is some more common sense emerging in this administration when it comes to evaluate “Nat Gas”. Bad that the term “clean-coal” still finds it’s way into possible solutions, since clean coal has no scientific basis to work reliable and efficient when scaled up.

  21. prokaryotes says:

    When it comes to fossil subsidies these plans need to offer existing energy companies a choice for change, to upgrade their technologies. Such as a redirection of subsidies for solar/wind and i.e. smart-grid solutions. Also see Energiewende and subsidies for energy firms which invest therein.

    On the bottom line there is a carbon fee missing… a real incentive to change and advance/upgrade technologies. It is these incentives which could drive a new industrial revolution – but smarter, cleaner and more reliable!

  22. Superman1 says:

    Your last paragraph is correct in theory. In reality, they want no part of the draconian sacrifices required to avoid the climate cliff. Put all the spin you want on the wording, but in the end the consumers need to eliminate all non-essential uses of fossil fuel starting now, and that’s not in the cards.

  23. SecularAnimist says:

    Superman1 wrote: “In reality, they want no part of the draconian sacrifices required to avoid the climate cliff.”

    Which is, of course, exactly why the fossil fuel corporations pay their shills to tell the public alarmist, fear-mongering lies about the “draconian sacrifices” that will result from rapidly phasing out fossil fuels, when in reality, no such “draconian sacrifices” are required.

  24. facts lean left says:

    The green party?

    how ridiculous.

  25. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    I want some of what you’ve been smoking.

  26. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Another facet of the ‘draconian sacrifice’ bulldust is that the plebs know, from decades of bitter experience, that when ‘sacrifices’ are required, it is they and not the rich parasites who could easily sacrifice 90% of their ill-gotten gelt, who will be sacrificed.

  27. Dr.A.Jagadeesh says:

    Great plan by President Barack Obama to tackle Climate Change and related issues.
    Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP),India

  28. Mark E says:

    Axiom: Longterm, no political issue matters a whit, if we don’t get our act together on global warming.

    If we assume this to be true, there is zero difference between

    (1) a climate do-nothing GOP candidate and
    (2) a climate do-nother DEM candidate

    in which case we don’t even need to say “The lesser of two evils is still evil”. After all, if the axiom holds, do nothing is do nothing, no matter their positions on all the issues that, over the longterm, don’t matter.

    In my view, “ridiculous” describes continued support for DEMS who do not forcefully talk global warming on a regular basis….. and that’s because the axiom above is true.

  29. I know a lot of environmentalists were jumping for joy over this speech, but I wasn’t one of them. I found myself singularly unimpressed — the speech lacked any real sense of urgency, mired in the same plodding, informative language that convinces few of the seriousness of the problem, much less compels them to act.

    So I decided to write him the speech he should have given.


    Need I remind you what’s at stake? The world is currently on a path to increase global temperatures by more than 10°F this century. This temperature increase is more than enough for the oceans to swallow our cities, stop food from growing, and doom to extinction most of the world’s animal species. Climate change could be no more destructive were it an alien invasion or a cataclysmic meteor strike…for all intents and purposes it’s the end of human civilization.

    Think about that for a moment. Unless we win this war, you will be one of the last people that will ever walk the Earth. Your children may not survive to middle age. All of the beauty, culture and knowledge humanity has unlocked will be returned to the ether from whence it came. This is the real meaning of climate change. This is why we fight.

  30. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    That is the purpose for which he was talent spotted at college, put into his first job, set up in politics and financed all the way to the White House by his billionaire Chicago patrons, and the financial industry, which controls fossil fuels and which is underwritten by fossil fuel assets and profits. Obama is just being a loyal employee, and he will get his reward (although not too much-after all he is just ‘staff’)in 2017.