A Three-Track Strategy on Global Warming

 A broad coalition of environmental organizations, including NRDC, unveiled today our "Transition to Green" - our recommendations for President-Elect Obama and his new administration.  Our highest priority recommendations are addressed to taking quick and decisive action on climate and energy. 

 The best news is that President-Elect Obama is there ahead of us.  In a speech to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's climate conference last week, Obama laid out a vision of fast and effective action to tackle the climate crisis while rebuilding our economy and enhancing our energy security.

 The "Transition to Green" recommends a three-track strategy for progress on energy and climate, based on legislative, regulatory, and diplomatic initiatives.

  • Legislation. The first track is to work with Congress to pass legislation in 2009 that revitalizes our economy and delivers energy and climate security. Legislation needs to set mandatory limits that reduce America's global warming pollution and put us on a path consistent with keeping further warming below 2° F. There need to be ambitious domestic reductions targets for 2020 and 2050, a cap and auction program and other policies to make additional reductions at home and abroad, and a prompt science-based review to accelerate reductions if necessary. We need to auction the carbon permits and use the revenue for investing in a massive clean energy transition, creating green jobs, protecting vulnerable communities and natural resources, and providing consumer relief, especially to those most in need. We need to move America towards towards a 100% clean electricity future by maximizing energy efficiency, modernizing the grid, and greatly expanding power generation from renewable energy resources. And we need to get America moving by investing in clean transportation infrastructure that cuts global warming pollution. 
  • Regulation. The second track is to move immediately to tackle global warming using the executive branch's powers under existing laws. Right off the block, the President's new EPA administrator should grant California the waiver needed to allow the Golden State and 13 other states to enforce their standards for global warming pollution from vehicles. At the same time the new EPA head should use the Clean Air Act to declare the obvious - that global warming pollution endangers public health and welfare. Then he should move quickly to set Clean Air Act standards for power plants, vehicles, and fuels. The new President should instruct his other department heads to use our existing energy laws to strengthen fuel economy and appliance efficiency standards. He should order every agency to consider global warming in its actions affecting energy use and managing natural resources and to develop a coordinated, interagency natural resources adaptation strategy. 
  • Diplomacy. The third track is to move right away to restore America's global leadership on global warming. After eight years on the sideline - indeed, actively obstructing progress - we need to work with other nations to reach a new climate treaty that keeps further warming below 2° F at the Copenhagen climate summit at the end of 2009. To restore our credibility and effectiveness on the world stage, the new President needs to demonstrate U.S. action at home by setting mandatory limits on our own global warming pollution through new legislation and implementation of existing laws. And the new administration needs to lead a worldwide effort to finance clean energy deployment, forest conservation, and adaptation to unavoidable climate impacts. 

A tall order, especially to do three things at once, and to lead both Congressional and foreign leaders to a common consensus.  

But Obama seems determined to do it. 

In his speech to the California conference (you can watch it here), the President-Elect sent hugely important messages.  First, that the U.S. will act.  Too often, he said, Washington has failed to show leadership.  

That will change when I take office. My presidency will mark a new chapter in America's leadership on climate change that will strengthen our security and create millions of new jobs in the process.

That will start with a federal cap and trade system. We will establish strong annual targets that set us on a course to reduce emissions to their 1990 levels by 2020 and reduce them an additional 80% by 2050.

Further, we will invest $15 billion each year to catalyze private sector efforts to build a clean energy future. We will invest in solar power, wind power, and next-generation biofuels. We will tap nuclear power, while making sure it's safe. And we will develop clean coal technologies.

This investment will not only help us reduce our dependence on foreign oil, making the United States more secure. And it will not only help us bring about a clean energy future, saving our planet. It will also help us transform our industries and steer our country out of this economic crisis by generating five million new green jobs that pay well and can't be outsourced.

He promised U.S. cooperation with other nations and asked for their commitment in return.  Speaking of the climate treaty negotiations that will culminate in Copenhagen in December of his first year, Obama said:

And once I take office, you can be sure that the United States will once again engage vigorously in these negotiations, and help lead the world toward a new era of global cooperation on climate change.

And the President-Elect closed with these pledges:

Now is the time to confront this challenge once and for all. Delay is no longer an option. Denial is no longer an acceptable response. The stakes are too high. The consequences, too serious. Stopping climate change won't be easy. It won't happen overnight. But I promise you this: When I am President, any governor who's willing to promote clean energy will have a partner in the White House. Any company that's willing to invest in clean energy will have an ally in Washington. And any nation that's willing to join the cause of combating climate change will have an ally in the United States of America.

That's a strong start on our "Transition to Green" agenda.  And he'll have an ally and a partner in us to get this done.