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Jan 2011
What’s Next?
Pete Souza/Official White House Photo
President Barack Obama walks with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao to their bilateral meeting at the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, in Dec. 2009.

Even without a climate bill from Congress this year, the United States can be a leader in slowing and reversing global climate change.

That’s the conclusion of the Presidential Climate Action Project (PCAP) in its latest recommendations to the Obama administration. In August, PCAP sent the White House a five-step plan for presidential climate leadership in advance of the United Nations’ international negotiating session this December in Cancun. The plan advises the president to:

1. Partner with state, tribal, and local government leaders to create a road map to the clean-energy economy. The World Resources Institute estimates that state and federal policies already in place can reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions 14 percent by 2020, nearly fulfilling President Obama’s goal of a 17 percent cut. But doing so will require aggressive implementation of these policies. A national road map would show how all levels of government can coordinate to achieve the reductions while expediting America’s transition to clean energy.

2. Declare a war on waste. The U.S. economy wastes 87 percent of the energy it consumes. Energy efficiency is the fastest way to reduce oil imports, prevent air pollution, and give consumers new disposable income. The president should challenge all sectors and citizens to a World War II–scale effort to make the United States the most energy-efficient industrial economy on the planet by 2035.

3. Reinvent national transportation policy. Congress will update America’s transportation policies next year. Current policies are biased toward road building. Obama should push Congress hard to reinvent federal policy so it helps reduce America’s “vehicle miles traveled” and oil imports.

4. Stop subsidizing fossil fuels. Obama has proposed that the United States and the world’s major economies phase out some of their subsidies for fossil energy. But his proposals so far would eliminate only a fraction of the tens of billions of dollars given to the oil, gas, and coal industries each year. The president should advocate phasing out all fossil energy subsidies that are not critical to global security and economic stability. He should start by phasing out several subsidies his administration controls.

5. Make ecosystem restoration a central strategy in climate adaptation. Human development has destroyed or degraded many of the ecosystems that once provided flood control, storm surge suppression, water purification, carbon sequestration, and other services that will become more critical because of climate change. We have tried to replace these free services with expensive dams, levees, and other engineered structures that have proved ineffective or too expensive to maintain. The administration’s emerging strategy on climate adaptation should include restoration of vital ecosystems and their services.

These recommendations alone won't save the world. But they will demonstrate that with or without help from Congress this year, the United States intends to be a full partner in the global effort to mitigate climate change and build a clean energy economy.

For more information, check out www.climateactionproject.com.