Obama’s Speech: Implications for International Climate Change

Tonight, President Obama made his first speech to a joint session of Congress -- his "State of the Nation" speech.  He continued to send a clear signal that addressing the challenge of global warming is one of his top priorities.  And he stressed that solving global warming is necessary and achievable.  The fate of our planet and nation depends on us taking bold action immediately to solve global warming.

So what did he say and what does it mean for domestic action to cap our global warming pollution, repower America, and be a leader in getting a strong international agreement in Copenhagen later this year? (Full text available here).

Some framing that is important for solving global warming

While I don't think President Obama was referring to global warming, these portions of his speech frame the challenge and opportunities presented by this important issue:

"What is required now is for this country to pull together, confront boldly the challenges we face, and take responsibility for our future once more.

We have lived through an era where too often, short-term gains were prized over long-term prosperity; where we failed to look beyond the next payment, the next quarter, or the next election.

Well that day of reckoning has arrived, and the time to take charge of our future is here."

Global warming is a challenge that we must confront boldly.  We must take responsibility for our future.  The future that confronts us if we don't solve global warming will bring severe economic, environmental, and national security damages.  We have failed to look beyond the next election and find solutions to this challenge.  The time to take charge of our future is here.  We can't wait any longer to develop the necessary solutions, and take the bold domestic and international leadership that is required to solve global warming. 

Addressing the Challenge of Global Warming

But he didn't only have these broad framing points, he actually went straight to the heart of the opportunity presented by finding the solutions to global warming-the country that leads in creating global warming solutions will be the leader in the 21st century.  As he stressed:

We know the country that harnesses the power of clean, renewable energy will lead the 21st century. 

But the US is behind in this race and that needs to be changed quickly if we are to create the jobs of the future and solve global warming.  As he put it:

And yet, it is China that has launched the largest effort in history to make their economy energy efficient.  We invented solar technology, but we've fallen behind countries like Germany and Japan in producing it.  New plug-in hybrids roll off our assembly lines, but they will run on batteries made in Korea. 

And he'll ask this Congress (meaning sometime over the next two years) to pass legislation that establishes a cap on global warming pollution.  With this call to action: 

So I ask this Congress to send me legislation that places a market-based cap on carbon pollution and drives the production of more renewable energy in America.

What does this mean for getting a strong agreement in Copenhagen later this year?

President Obama has provided another clear signal that the US needs to be a leader in developing solutions to global warming and that addressing this challenge is one of his top priorities.  Oh what a change a couple of months can make! 

He stressed the need for this Congress to pass legislation to cap global warming pollution.  Oh what a change a couple of months make! 

While he leaves some ambiguity in whether he means this year or next year, he has signaled the urgency by stressing that the US can no longer wait to take action on global warming. 

It is crucial to pass a cap on global warming pollution this year.  As our President Frances Beinecke stressed we need a climate bill now and as my colleague Andy Stevenson highlighted there are 10 reasons (at least) why climate legislation will be passed in 2009.  And we need to cap our global warming pollution this year if we want to help secure a strong international agreement to address global warming.  The US needs to lead! 

There are a lot of pieces that need to come together to get a strong agreement in Copenhagen, but the key cornerstone is strong action from the US.  You can't build a house without a solid foundation.  And the foundation of a strong international agreement is US leadership.  If the US leads then I believe that other countries will commit to strong actions as well (as I discussed here).  They are waiting for the clear signal that the US is serious.

We are serious about addressing global warming pollution, but now we need to show it with our actions!