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Barack Obama delivering a speech to a rally in Raleigh, 2008.
Credit: Joseph Sohm/Shutterstock
21 January 2015 8:10

Obama’’s strong words on climate change in sixth State of the Union address

Mat Hope


Mat Hope

21.01.2015 | 8:10am
Rest of world policyObama’’s strong words on climate change in sixth State of the Union address

President Obama last night delivered his sixth and penultimate State of the Union address. The speech outlined the major policy proposals the president hopes to implement before he leaves office at the end of 2016.

Unlike  some of his previous addresses, Obama this year dedicated a large chunk of his speech to climate change. “No challenge ??poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change”, he said.

Carbon Brief takes a look at what Obama had to say, and how the media responded.

Hottest year

Obama began his climate change section by talking about the recent announcement that 2014 was the hottest year on record. This highlighted the threat the world is facing from climate change, he said.

“2014 was the planet’s warmest year on record. Now, one year doesn’t make a trend, but this doesâ??-â??14 of the 15 warmest years on record have all fallen in the first 15 years of this century.

“I’ve heard some folks try to dodge the evidence by saying they’re not scientists; that we don’t have enough information to act.

“Well, I’m not a scientist, either. But you know whatâ??-â??I know a lot of really good scientists at NASA, and NOAA, and at our major universities. The best scientists in the world are all telling us that our activities are changing the climate, and if we do not act forcefully, we’ll continue to see rising oceans, longer, hotter heat waves, dangerous droughts and floods, and massive disruptions that can trigger greater migration, conflict, and hunger around the globe.”

In delivering the “i’m not a scientist” line, Obama was mocking Republicans that refuse to clarify their stance on climate science, Slate said. Mother Jones referred to it as a “direct rebuke” to those wishing to block climate action. The refrain became a stock response for politicians not wanting to alienate any part of their voter base in last year’s midterm elections.

Science magazine said Obama’s reference to NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s temperature research gave science a deserved moment in the spotlight.

But while Obama is right to highlight the threat, his administration has a mixed record on tackling emissions, ABC News says. It points to US Energy Information Administration statistics showing US crude oil production has grown rapidly during Obama’s time in office. Doubts also remain over the effectiveness of Obama’s plans to tackle power sector emissions, Carbon Brief found.

Challenging Congress

President Obama said the threat of climate change was the reason he’s used his executive authority to implement a number of clean energy policies and emissions regulations, sidestepping an obstinate Congress. The president said he’d do all he could to protect these policies, should the new Republican Congress try to overturn them:

“I will not let this Congress endanger the health of our children by turning back the clock on our efforts.”

Obama’s comments lay the foundations for a fight with Congress over the controversial Keystone XL pipeline and other environmental issues in his final year in office, Fortune magazine speculated ahead of the address.

Senator Joni Ernst, chosen by the Republicans to give the party’s official response, referenced Obama’s effrots to “block good American jobs” by threatening to veto a bill approving the pipeline. She didn’t mention climate change.

International action

Finally, the president talked about the prospects of the world agreeing a new global climate deal in Paris in 2015. Politicians have a self-imposed deadline of December to craft a new agreement to to cut emissions and tackle climate change.

Obama said his country would lead this effort, referencing last year’s historic deal with China to show the US was serious:

“I am determined to make sure American leadership drives international action. In Beijing, we made an historic announcementâ??-â??the United States will double the pace at which we cut carbon pollution, and China committed, for the first time, to limiting their emissions. And because the world’s two largest economies came together, other nations are now stepping up, and offering hope that, this year, the world will finally reach an agreement to protect the one planet we’ve got.”

Grist said Obama gave his his “longest and most forceful statements” on climate change to date in this year’s speech. But it bemoans the president for being “frustratingly circumspect” when it came to outlining policy proposals on the issue.

Inhabitat said the speech showed Obama is keen for “great strides” on climate change to form part of his legacy. It remains to be seen if Congress and the rest of the world shares his enthusiasm for climate action.

Here’s a video clip of his remarks, courtesy of the New York Times:

Main image: Barack Obama delivering a speech to a rally in Raleigh, 2008.
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