The Global Implications of Obama’s Climate Action Plan

President Obama is rolling out a new series of measures to curb carbon emissions in the USA. This is not a Grand American Climate Action Plan. That would  require an act of Congress — and we all know how likely they are to come together around this sort of thing. Still, the policies set out by President Obama today are important steps toward a more sustainable future.

From a global perspective, even moderate steps from the USA would have far reaching consequences. The USA is currently the world’s second worst emitter, responsible for 18% of the total carbon emissions. Even a modest reduction of emissions from the USA would have profound reverberations around the globe.

Two particularly hopeful measures proposed today include new restrictions on coal power plants (which account for 40% of the USA’s carbon emissions) and a directive to the federal government to get 20% of its energy from renewable sources by 2020. As Dave Roberts points out, the federal government is the world’s single largest energy consumer, so this is a big deal. Those measures alone could make important dents in the USA’s total carbon emissions.

Today’s announcement also builds some momentum for the burgeoning Sustainable Energy for All movement. This is an initiative of the UN Secretary General to promote three objectives by 2030: universal access to modern energy; doubling the share of renewable energy sources in the global mix; and doubling the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency.  These objectives got a boost last month with a key endorsement from a UN panel charged with coming up with recommendations for an international development agenda once the Millennium Development Goals expire in 2015.

While he will not directly reference Sustainable Energy for All, having an American president affirm his commitment to renewables and efficiency standards is useful for the global push around these goals.

The proposals being outlines today are moderate compared to the scope of the challenge, but it moves the needle in the right direction. Every step helps.