by Kasey White, Director for Geoscience Policy, Geological Society of America

On a warm June afternoon, President Obama released his “Climate Action Plan” to reduce carbon emissions, prepare for the impacts of climate change, and lead international climate efforts.

Of the many items mentioned in President Obama’s speech at Georgetown University, the action likely to have the largest impact was codified in a memo that directs EPA to establish carbon emission standards for both new and existing power plants.   The plan also involves many goals for the future: doubling renewable electricity generation by 2020, reducing carbon emissions by at least 3 billion metric tons cumulatively by 2030 through energy efficiency measures, and developing new post-2018 fuel economy standards for heavy –duty vehicles. Other aspects of plan include instituting a federal Quadrennial Energy Review and reducing other greenhouse gases such as HFCs and methane.

President Obama released his “Climate Action Plan” during a speech last week at Georgetown University.
President Obama released his “Climate Action Plan” during a speech last week at Georgetown University.

On the adaptation front, the plan directs agencies to remove barriers and counterproductive policies to better support local climate-resilient investment and establishes a task force of state, local, and tribal officials to advise on key actions the Federal government can take to help strengthen communities’ adaptation efforts.  The plan calls for a Climate Data Initiative to leverage climate data in support of climate change preparedness. In addition, agencies will create climate preparedness tools and information needed by state, local, and private-sector leaders through a centralized “toolkit”. The plan also provides sector-specific plans for managing drought, reducing wildfire risk, preparing for floods, and managing agriculture.

The plan outlines the United States leadership role internationally, calling for both bilateral and multilateral efforts. In addition, it calls for new global free trade in environmental goods and using financing to support clean energy – and stop US support for public financing of new coal plants overseas under most conditions.

Acknowledging the lack of action in Congress on climate change legislation and stating “this is a challenge that does not pause for partisan gridlock,” Obama noted that the plan focuses primarily on actions by the Executive Branch rather than legislative proposals. Congress, however, still has many opportunities to weigh in, including appropriations bills to influence how funds are allocated for these programs.