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Undeserved hype over US climate push

President Obama is going after the power plants but his headline cuts have moved the goalposts, says IAN SINCLAIR

BARACK OBAMA’S recent announcement on climate change is further proof of the liberal media’s never-ending supply of wilful naivety when it comes to the US president.

Noting it was the first time any US president had moved to regulate carbon pollution from power plants, the Guardian’s US environmental correspondent Suzanne Goldenberg explained the proposed regulations would cut carbon emissions from power plants by 30 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030. 

Supporting the proposals were former vice-president Al Gore, the executive director of the Sierra Club, the chief executive of the World Resources Institute (a “momentous development”) and the leaders of both parties in Congress.

There was only one note of caution in the report which said that it had not gone as far as some environmentalists would have liked.

This kind of reporting on Obama’s announcement was not unique to the Guardian though — positive, unquestioning coverage occurred right across the media.

In reality the headline figure of a 30 percent reduction by 2030 is a lot less impressive than it sounds. This is because of the Obama Administration’s habit of moving the goalposts on climate change policy. 

So while the rest of the world uses 1990 as the baseline for measuring reductions in carbon emissions, the US uses 2005 — a far easier baseline figure to aim for as emissions were significantly higher in 2005 than in 1990. 

According to Kevin Bundy from the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute the 30 per cent reduction in power-plant emissions shrinks to just a mere 7.7 per cent reduction when the 1990 baseline is applied.

Compare this to the 2007 recommendations from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). According to the IPCC industrialised nations should cut emissions by between 25-40 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020 to have a good chance of keeping global warming under the internationitally agreed 2?C. Moreover, many climate experts see the IPCC’s guidelines as conservative. 

For example, Professor Kevin Anderson, deputy director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, recently pushed the European Union to pursue an “equitable and science-based 2030 decarbonisation target” of around 80 per cent on 1990 levels. 

Regarding Obama’s new targets, Anderson, along with Dr Maria Sharmina, notes it “is a death sentence for many of tomorrow’s more vulnerable communities.”

The obvious mismatch between the science and US government policy is the reason Bundy described Obama’s proposals as “like fighting a wildfire with a garden hose —we’re glad the president has finally turned the water on, but it’s just not enough to get the job done.” 

President of US Friends of the Earth Erich Pica agrees, arguing the new rule “simply doesn’t go far enough to put us on the right path.”

More worryingly, even Bundy’s calculations are too generous as they only refer to emissions from power plants — just one albeit significant sector of the US economy. 

Putting the power plant emission cuts in the context of US national emissions, Wenonah Hauter of Food & Water Watch and Janet Redman from the Institute for Policy Studies note “with the President’s targets, US economy-wide emission would still be above 1990 levels in 2030.” 

We should be supportive of any steps taken, however small, to combat climate change – especially when it happens in the unwelcoming US political environment. 

And we should be prepared to defend the Obama administration’s proposals from attacks from the right and the fossil fuel industry. 

However, we also need to be clear, given the size of the climate problem, that Obama’s plan is completely inadequate. 

Obama’s “historical fate is to be in power at a time when good intentions and important steps are no longer enough,” writes The Nation magazine’s Mark Hertsgaard. “The science he is faced with … demand actions that seem preposterous to the political and economic status quo.”

The good news is the emissions cut target is still to be finalised and therefore open to influence from outside actors. 

With the stupendously wealthy fossil fuel-based industries lobbying hard, it’s essential there is a mass movement to press the Obama administration to institute more ambitious targets. 

To this end a massive rally is being organised in New York City on September 20 to coincide with an international climate summit. 

Back in Britain we can demand our government takes climate change as seriously as the science itself demands. With climate change an existential threat to humanity, doing nothing is not an option.


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