When Senator Barack Obama kicked off his Presidential election bid in 2008, the global environmental crisis got much attention. He fired at a campaign rally in New Hampshire and stated: “we cannot afford more of the same timid politics when the future of our planet is at stake. Global warming is not a someday problem, it is now”. He had been running his Presidential campaign on a pro-environment platform and presented himself as a sole crusader, who fights against global warming. After he won the Democratic Party nomination he stated at the party convention that his nomination would be remembered by future generations as “the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal”.
He promised America that he would start solve global environment problems, which had been increasing at an alarming rate for decades. Almost eight years of his presidency, did President Barack Obama achieve his agenda?
Here are the some of the few main promises on President Barack Obama’s stunning environment agenda: cut carbon dioxide emissions by 80% in 2050, restore US leadership on climate change, spend $150 billion over 10 years on biofuels and biofuel infrastructure, plug-in hybrid, renewable energy, low-emission coal plants and a digital electric grid, and introduce the carbon cap-and-trade programme which will intend to raise $150 billion over 10 years to boost energy efficiency.
In the international arena, the Copenhagen Global Climate Summit in 2009 was the first opportunity that President Obama got to restore the US leadership on climate change. But he failed to convince world leaders to agree on a significant action plan to tackle the climate change crisis. During the Summit, world leaders agreed to set a goal of limiting
the global temperature rise to two degrees Celsius above
pre industrial levels by 2050
During his first month in office, President Obama presented a green economic stimulus package to congress. It helped boost renewable energy capacity, increased green jobs, and rose funding for renewable energy research. According to White House, through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (Recovery Act), President Obama made the largest single investment in clean energy in history, providing more than $90 billion in strategic clean energy investments and tax incentives to promote job creation and the deployment of low-carbon technologies, and leveraging approximately $150 billion in private and other non-federal capital for clean energy investments.
From year 2008 to 2009, the first year of the Obama Presidency, nation’s wind and solar power capacity escalated by 39 and 52 percent respectively. According to the US energy information administration, during past eight years, electricity generated by wind power tripled and solar power increased by 30 times. Furthermore, under the President Obama’s leadership, the United States has done more to combat climate change than ever before, while growing the economy. In fact, since the President took office, carbon emissions have decreased 9 percent, while the U.S. economy grew more than 10 percent.
In the international arena, the Copenhagen Global Climate Summit in 2009 was the first opportunity that President Obama got to restore the US leadership on climate change. But he failed to convince world leaders to agree on a significant action plan to tackle the climate change crisis. During the Summit, world leaders agreed to set a goal of limiting the global temperature rise to two degrees Celsius above pre industrial levels by 2050.
Majority of countries were disappointed about this goal because more than a hundred nations were expected to lower the limit to one and half degree Celsius. Significantly, the Copenhagen Summit failed to reach an international treaty to seal the provisions of the accord in 2010. Even President Obama admitted that Copenhagen summit did not meet world expectations: “We know that this progress alone is not enough.”
Despite some setbacks on his environment agenda, President Obama achieved significant progress through the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which falls under the executive branch. Obama administration has been using EPA as an effective tool to change environmental and energy policies.
In 2007 the Supreme Court gave a landmark ruling that the EPA has the authority to regulate greenhouse gas as a pollutant under the Clean Air Act. Former Director of the Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy, Carol Browner, defined EPA’s new powers as the Obama administration’s trump card. She said that EPA was able to “…crack down on carbon emission without the help of Congress”.
But EPA’s effective role was ridiculed by right wing Republican conservatives, who are anti science, climate deniers and they pledged to dismantle the EPA. During last Presidential campaign, climate denier Donald Trump pledged to dismantle EPA and roll backed President Obama’s executive orders on environment protection.
The EPA introduced new rules on carbon dioxide emissions for new and exciting power plants. According to the new rules, newly built power plants will have to emit no more than 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour. This was the first-ever national carbon pollution standards for power plants, the largest source of carbon pollution in the US. This rule will cut carbon pollution from these plants by 32% from 2005 levels by 2030.
Obama administration took another positive long term action to reduced carbon emission by introducing new fuel-efficiency standards for cars and they stuck an agreement with automakers to double the fuel-efficiency by 2025. Later President Obama succeeded in extending the agreement from cars to light trucks. New standards started on year 2012 and expected to reduce carbon emissions from cars by 21 percent by 2025. EPA also issued the “tailpipe” rule, cutting CO2 emissions from new cars by almost a billion tons. President Obama used EPA as his major instrument to reduce carbon pollution from automobiles, trucks, and from especially coal power plants – together accounting for two-thirds of all U.S. greenhouse gases. Despite, Republican climate denier’s objections, Obama administration worked very hard to achieve some significant goals on their pro-environment agenda.
Michael B. Gerrard, professor at Columbia Law School in New York City who teaches courses on environmental regulation and climate change policy, recently stated “Obama strongly advocated environmental protection and took several highly publicized trips to advance concern about environmental issues and to promote renewable energy. After his first two years, he was confronted with the most anti-environmental Congress in history, so new legislation was challenging, to say the least. However, he pushed against the limits of his authority under existing laws, especially on climate change.”
Courageous executive decisions
During his years in White House, President Obama took bold and politically courageous executive decisions and one of them was the rejection of the Keystone XL pipe line project. The $7 billion pipe line was expected to bring 500,000 barrels of tar-sand oil from Canada to refineries in Texas. Environment activists strongly protested to this 2000 mile long pipe line as a “climate disaster”. For his credit, under immense pressure from right wing and corporate. Influence, President Obama took this executive decision and tried to line up with his 2008 environment agenda.
Despite the Copenhagen set back in 2009, President Obama led 194 countries at the Paris climate conference in December 2015, to adopt the first-ever universally legally binding global climate deal. The Paris agreement sets out a global action plan to put the world on track to avoid dangerous climate change by limiting global warming to well below 2°C. This was a major trump for President Obama’s pro-environment climate change agenda.
In addition, President Obama has established more national monuments than any other president in history and designated some 580,000 square miles off Hawaii as a national ocean monument. The Obama Administration had listed 299 species, bringing them under the protection of the Endangered Species and issued the Water of the United States rule to Protect wetlands.
During the last eight years, President Obama changed the US’s “worst polluter” status to environment sensitive global player and his climate policy makes him the best environmental president since Teddy Roosevelt.