Were it not for Hurricane Sandy, climate issues would have hardly featured at all during the last Presidential elections held in the US. That they did, ended up being an added bonus for the incumbent who managed to turn it overnight into a centre stage issue.
Developments in Australia since the Prime Minister found herself ousted by her predecessor seem to suggest that, once again, the Australians could be facing yet another election where climate-elated issues could dominate the political agenda.
No matter what one might think about climate change, even on whether the whole matter is human related or not, there seems to be an almost general consensus that a recent speech by the US President was not only a historic step forward in addressing the issue but, according to many analysts right across the political spectrum, he seems to have gone further than any previous US President in outlining a comprehensive strategy for dealing with climate change.
A country can cut emissions while seeing the economy actually grow rather than shrink
Ironically, this comes at a time when, apart from running a country that has long been paying the price of inaction, it has concurrently also been backing both nuclear energy and fracking as part of what has been described as a comprehensive strategy.
It might sound like the perfect speech-writer’s dream but no one can even think of improving on this quotable quote in his address to a gathering of students: “I refuse to condemn your generation and future generations to a planet that is beyond fixing…”
Given the make-up of a deadlocked Congress, his executive memo to the Environmental Protection Agency shows that, apart from calling for new rules to curb greenhouse gas emissions from power plants – which was unthinkable until recent in the US – he admitted for the first time that the said plants were responsible for almost a third of his country’s greenhouse gas emissions.
There are various instances when politicians tend to be in denial on various issues both overseas and locally but the worst case is when they try to cast doubt on scientific findings too. That is what climate skeptics have often been inclined to do.
With this in mind, Barack Obama deserves even more praise for having shown his true mettle in claiming that, while he was willing to work across the political divide, he would not tolerate attempts to cast doubt on the science underlying climate change itself.
It is not always easy for politicians to finally put action behind their words but, this time round, the US President definitely seems to mean business.
To be fair to the President, he had claimed climate as being one of his core issues in his inauguration address too. Similar strong echoes were to be felt during his February State of the Union address. But since then conflicting and mixed signals had followed until the ground breaker and game changer of last week.
As is to be expected, we will always get the experts who will inevitably pop the question as to whether Obama’s best so far was/is enough. But, as Nicholas Stern pointed out, the fact that in his speech the President was very clear on the scale of dangers posed by climate change and the responsibility of the US and other countries to act should in itself fill us with more than just hope.
One hopes that the fallacy will be exposed that cutting emissions could bog down one’s competitiveness. On the contrary, with its technology and entrepreneurship, the US can lead us towards a new low carbon growth while showing that, in practice, the country can cut its emissions while seeing its economy actually grow rather than shrink.
If all this can translate itself into new jobs in cleaner and more efficient technologies, investment opportunities could flourish even on this side of the globe. If the private sector is smart enough, as I am sure it is, it should realise that there is enormous potential growth for it not only in the US but also beyond if we all follow this path.
Some respected academicians have even suggested that there would be tremendous benefits if China and the US could together show real international leadership on this issue.
The UN climate change summit in Paris 2015 should prove to be a turning point year. Obama’s speech is definitely a step in the right direction that set the right tone and approach ahead of this climate related D-Day.
All this might strike a chord with the young people who he addressed in his appeal when making his case.
However, the ultimate responsibility rests with us politicians for action. And, by action, I definitely mean concrete action.
There are various instances - including the Middle East quagmire – where many tend to count on US leadership for a major and real breakthrough.
In my humble opinion, if there is one instance when the US can clearly offer international leadership as the best way forward, this must be climate change. Judging by his determination and ambitions, President Obama seems to think so too.
Leo Brincat is Minister for Sustainable Development, the Environment and Climate Change.
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