Coastal damage from Hurricane Sandy
Credit: U.S. Geological Survey.
President Barack Obama will announce a comprehensive plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in a highly anticipated speech today (June 25), according to senior White House officials. The measures, which aim to reduce the nation's carbon pollution and prepare communities for the effects of global warming, signal the administration's commitment to tackling climate change, even if it means bypassing Congress.
Obama is scheduled to deliver his speech at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., at 1:35 p.m. EDT. The address will be webcast live on the university's website.
According to top White House officials, the president's climate strategy will focus on three key areas: preparing the country for the short- and long-term effects of climate change, cutting the amount of carbon pollution in the United States, and leading global efforts to combat climate change. [8 Ways Global Warming Is Already Changing the World]
Frank Lowenstein, Climate Adaptation Strategy Leader for The Nature Conservancy's Global Climate Change Team, said the objectives outlined in the president's speech represent an important step in the right direction.
"All three of those goals are appropriate and necessary," Lowenstein told LiveScience. "It's important that we act quickly, because the longer we wait before we start reducing carbon emissions, the faster we will have to reduce them to avoid catastrophic damage."
The president's plan will direct the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to establish standards for greenhouse gas emissions for new and existing power plants. Currently, existing plants contribute about 40 percent of carbon emissions in the United States. In 2009, Obama pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions below 2005 levels by the year 2020.
"Today, the president remains firmly committed to that goal," a senior White House official told reporters in a conference call Monday (June 24).
The strategy will also outline efforts to develop and deploy clean energy technologies, with particular focus on wind, solar and geothermal alternatives. White House officials hinted at a goal to expand renewable energy projects on public land, which would build on the president's objective to establish 10 gigawatts of renewable energy on public land by the end of 2012, which was fulfilled ahead of schedule.
In addition, the president is expected to discuss measures to increase energy efficiency in homes and household appliances, which, the White House says, will help American families and businesses save money.
Obama's plan will also include steps aimed at reducing methane emissions and other pollutants, including hydrofluorocarbons, which are potent greenhouse gases that trap heat in the Earth's atmosphere and contribute to the destruction of the ozone layer.
A global problem
White House officials also stated that a key part of the president's plan would involve working with other countries to develop global solutions to climate change. This type of cooperation is critical, said Lowenstein.
"The climate negotiations have been stalled for a long time," he said. "We do need to take action together with other countries, so what's very important about Obama taking a step forward is that other countries have been waiting and hiding behind us. Obama's actions could be important to break the logjam."
Today's speech is also expected to discuss efforts to better prepare cities and towns for the effects of climate change, including developing robust infrastructure to withstand storms, floods or droughts. Lowenstein said these measures will help ensure the well-being of future generations, but stressed that he hopes the new plan will also recognize the importance of preserving natural ecosystems.
"I hope in terms of responding to climate change and preparing our communities, we recognize the enormous benefits that we receive today from natural habitats — floodplains and forest that reduce the force of floods coming down from our mountains, and coastal ecosystems that buffer the shores," he explained. "We need to take action to protect these natural ecosystems."
Overall, Lowenstein is optimistic that the president's plan will lead to real action to combat climate change.
"I continue to believe that addressing climate change in a way that gives us a healthy environment to live in, a healthy economy to earn our livings in, and a healthy society for us to enjoy, is possible," Lowenstein said. "If I didn't believe that, I couldn't continue working to address climate change."