Obama kicks off countdown to seal end-of-term climate legacy


US President Barack Obama underscored climate progress under his leadership yesterday, calling on Americans to “invest in the future” by keeping the momentum going into the next presidency. During his final State of the Union address, President Obama boasted about his country’s climate accomplishments in the last few months, notably helping to foster the Paris Agreement alongside nearly 200 countries. He also pledged to push for change on public land leases for mining, which would have a significant impact on an already-ailing coal industry. Shutting down climate science deniers, the president argued that they will find themselves “pretty lonely” as the rest of the world moves forward towards a low-carbon future. As Obama spoke of climate risks and opportunities, he drew links between national security and climate stability, also taking the time to emphasize the benefits of renewable energy for people’s health and the economy. While most welcomed the president’s remarks, some fear that they are mostly rhetoric, citing his push for a Trans-Pacific Partnership deal, which has been deplored by many environmentalists. With the president getting ready to pass the torch on to the next leader in the coming months, all eyes will be on candidates seeking to succeed Obama to follow up on these commitments and lead the ongoing global energy transition.



Key Points

  • Acting for the climate is rising in political popularity. In the US, the renewable energy narrative is turning out to be one of the success stories of the economic recovery, with the country maintaining its lead in wind power generation while seeing a sudden burst of solar employment. As Americans increasingly recognize that climate action and economic growth are not mutually exclusive, politicians are beginning to pay attention, too.
  • If the US is serious about the climate, fossil fuels need to stay in the ground. Yesterday, President Obama called to “accelerate the transition away from dirty energy” in order to curb the climate crisis, and even pledged to push for change on leases that currently make it easier to extract coal on public land. If the American government is truly committed to making climate a priority, leaders need to be ready to stand up to the oil lobby, continue investing in renewable projects and put an end to facilitating fossil fuel extraction both domestically and abroad.
  • 2016 is the final opportunity for President Obama to cement his climate legacy. In the coming year, the Obama administration will be able to craft policies that will last far beyond the end of his term. Be it how the US develops fossil fuels on public lands, if it decides to drill for oil in the Arctic or the Atlantic Ocean, and how the nation deals with the constant issues related to fracking, there are plenty of choices Obama can make to lay down his climate legacy.



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  • “I’m going to push to change the way we manage our oil and coal resources, so that they better reflect the costs they impose on taxpayers and our planet.  That way, we put money back into those communities and put tens of thousands of Americans to work building a 21st century transportation system.” – US President Barack Obama
  • “To complete this legacy, it’s clear that new policies will be needed to help ramp up the booming clean energy economy and cut even more carbon pollution. Tonight, President Obama has laid out a new vision to do that by addressing how we manage oil and coal on public lands in this country–and we know significant changes are needed to keep these dirty fuels in the ground  so we protect the planet and American families.” – Michael Brune, Sierra Club Executive Director
  • “Americans increasingly understand both the risks and the opportunities presented by climate change. The investments and innovation that help us generate clean power and protect our communities from extreme weather and other climate impacts also help build a more sustainable economy.” –  Bob Perciasepe, President of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions
  • The solutions are here and now. Renewable energy is more cost-competitive than it has ever before. We have reduced our dependence on fossil fuels, cut carbon pollution on a worldwide scale and ultimately joined the global community in a bold and historic international agreement to end the climate crisis. We have made tremendous progress and could not have done it without the help and support of this administration.” – Ken Berlin, President and CEO of The Climate Reality Project
  • “We welcome President Obama’s full-throated endorsement of clean energy and his pledge to take a close look at how we can get off fossil fuels. The President’s top priority during his last year in office needs to be keeping that coal, oil and gas in the ground. The issue of fossil fuel extraction on public lands is going to be a key fight over the coming months.” – May Boeve, 350.org Executive Director
  • “Tonight, President Obama celebrated some major steps toward protecting our planet for future generations, and also underscored how far we have yet to go. Climate change is now a national and global priority, and the President announced he intends to double-down on his efforts to combat it. His work to rein in power plant emissions and to secure an ambitious international climate agreement in Paris has laid the foundation for his climate legacy. To secure it, he must ensure the United States delivers on its Paris commitments.” – Todd Shelton, WWF Vice President for Government Relations
  • “It’s encouraging to hear President Obama say that he is ‘going to push to change the way we manage our oil and coal resources, so that they better reflect the costs they impose on taxpayers and our planet.’  For far too long, the Interior Department has given away our publicly owned fossil fuels to mining and drilling companies without regard for the damage they cause to communities and our climate. We look forward to hearing more from President Obama about the steps his administration will take to keep our fossil fuels in the ground.” – Annie Leonard, Greenpeace USA Executive Director

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