Barack Obama’s legacy as president will largely be determined in the next two years by what he does – or does not do – to address global climate change.
That’s the conclusion of the Presidential Climate Action Project (PCAP), a four-year-old initiative to identify energy and climate policies the President and his Administration can implement without further action by Congress. The project issued the last of its four reports today as the president begins the second half of his first term.
“As important as President Obama’s achievements have been for health care and the economy, for example, he will be remembered most for what he did about global climate change,” said William Becker, PCAP’s executive director. “If the United States and the rest of the international community don’t act aggressively, climate change will undo many of the accomplishments on which the President spent so much time and political capital during his first two years in office.”
Federal climate scientists predict that unmitigated climate change will endanger public health and safety and lead to enormous economic costs. Military and intelligence experts – including senior retired military officers and analysts at the National Intelligence Council – have warned that climate change will destabilize some of the most volatile regions of the world, creating new conflicts and recruiting grounds for terrorists.
On the other hand, Becker said, more proactive efforts to build a low-carbon economy would have substantial collateral benefits including improved public health, economic vitality and national security, reinforcing the President’s accomplishments so far.
Today’s PCAP report documents dozens of measures the Obama Administration has implemented over the past two years to reduce the causes and impacts of climate change. While it praises the Administration for its progress, PCAP recommends strong additional action on topics ranging from clean energy to fresh water resources, low-carbon mobility and agriculture policies.
For example, the report urges the President to:
• Convene the nation’s best minds to create policy roadmaps to a clean energy economy. Becker noted that although current law requires presidents to send Congress detailed national energy policy plans every two years, none has been done since 1998;
• Find new ways for the federal government to support climate action by states and local governments. Effective climate action will require active cooperation between all levels of government, Becker said;
• Continue using federal procurement, including the defense budget, to bolster markets for low-carbon goods and services;
• Take additional steps — for example, better management of land-based pollutants — to protect America’s limited supplies of fresh water and the health of its ocean and coastal resources;
• Accelerate efforts to create a national climate adaptation plan. According to the PCAP report, many of the natural disasters occurring worldwide now are recognized by scientists, heads of state and leaders in the insurance industry as proof that climate disruption already is underway;
• Take the case for climate action directly to the American people and communicate a compelling vision of the nation’s future.
Noting that the Obama Administration has been reluctant to “get ahead of Congress” on the climate issue, PCAP urges President Obama not to get locked in a “partnership of paralysis” with lawmakers.
“Whatever the sentiments of its current Members, Congress over the last 30 years has established a strong foundation for action on global climate change,” Becker said. “The law of the land already recognizes the seriousness of this issue, the danger that climate impacts are irreversible and the responsibility of today’s leaders to future generations.”
“Climate change has been badly politicized,” Becker added, “but the need to take action is not a political question. It’s not about whether the President and the nation should move Right, Left or Center. It’s about whether we are moving forward or backward.”
PCAP is a nonpartisan initiative administered by Natural Capitalism Solutions, Inc., a nonprofit organization based in Colorado. The project has been advised by a distinguished committee of experts and funded by a grants from foundations and individuals. Prior to directing PCAP, Becker served as an official at the U.S. Department of Energy during the administrations of Presidents George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.
Plains Justice Founding Chair Emerita Dianne Dillon-Ridgley serves on the PCAP Advisory Committee.