You are on page 1of 8

Global Warming

President Obama tied climate change to soaring economic hope rather than
damaging catastrophes in his final State of the Union address, delivered to
a nation that remains gripped with partisan rancor over the basis for
climbing temperatures.
He only indirectly mentioned the global agreement reached last month in
Paris, defying predictions that he would tout the deal as a cornerstone of his
legacy to combat carbon dioxide emissions in a period of record warmth
But it was clear that Obamas efforts to cast climate change as an enduring
challenge that stands to follow younger generations into the future included
political considerations in an election year that will choose his successor.
Look, if anybody still wants to dispute the science around climate change,
have at it, Obama said. Youll be pretty lonely, because youll be debating
our military, most of Americas business leaders, the majority of the
American people, almost the entire scientific community, and 200 nations
around the world who agree its a problem and intend to solve it.
But even if the planet wasnt at stake, even if 2014 wasnt the warmest year
on recorduntil 2015 turned out even hotterwhy would we want to pass
up the chance for American businesses to produce and sell the energy of the
The speech in many ways serves as a capstone for the two-term president.
He first ran for office promising to install strict carbon limits, then, after
failing, retreated into a period of near-silence on the issue before bursting
into a climate sprint in 2013 by announcing a regulatory agenda that for the
first time is set to reduce emissions across the electricity sector.
Obama offered no new programs last night. But he hinted at altering the
process used to award oil and coal leases on federal land. It expands on his
strengthening narrative around leaving fossil fuel deposits untouched to
avoid the release of emissions while promoting alternative sources of
energy, like wind and solar power.

Now weve got to accelerate the transition away from dirty energy, Obama
said. Rather than subsidize the past, we should invest in the future
especially in communities that rely on fossil fuels. Thats why Im 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.
SOTU 2017: Will climate appear?
The White House didnt respond to requests for comment about those
remarks, but environmentalists greeted them warmly. One Republican also
said he supports the idea.
Its incumbent on me and any of us to do all that we can to mitigate any
human influence on the climate that could make areas like South Florida,
the Florida Keys, unlivable, Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.) said after the
speech. So I unapologetically fight for that every day that Im here.
The address contrasted sharply in other ways with Obamas past speeches.
There were no urgent warnings about extreme weather, like when in 2013
he linked Superstorm Sandy to rising warmth. He also didnt urge Congress
to find solutions; in past years, he threatened to use executive authority if
lawmakers failed to act.
Also in a departure from past years, theres a small but growing group of
Republicans who speak publicly about addressing climate change. Rep.
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) said last night that she agrees with Obama on
the environment, even as she believes his proposals on education and other
issues rely on expensive government programs.
We have rising tides, she said after the speech. Its a problem for areas in
Miami Beach.
The speech was cause for reflection for at least one environmental leader
who was seen inside the Capitol hours before the address. Gene Karpinski,
president of the League of Conservation Voters, recalled that not long ago,
it was no sure thing that climate change would be mentioned by any
president, including this one, in the State of the Union.
Now its a given. But it didnt escape Karpinskis attention that this is the
final address by a man who has shepherded the nation to its highest point
on climate action. Hes scared that a Republican successor to Obama
could put the issue back in the freezer for long-term storage. Punctuating

that concern is the presence of two leading candidates who openly

challenge the scienceDonald Trump and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.
The last two races for president featured Republican nominees who
downplayed their differences on climate with Obama. Both of them
believed to some degree that people affect the climate. This year might be
different. There could be an open fight between the parties nominees about
the realities of warming, Karpinski says.
We have not had that debate as sharply in a presidential election, ever, he
Republican supports Obamas investment plan
Passions were just as strong on the other side. The Republican leadership
team seemed to be bidding goodbye to Obamas relevance. They suggested
yesterday that he cant fix his shortcomings on the economy, health care
and the environment before leaving office in a year.
Regulations are out of control, Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) said. Sen. John
Barrasso (R-Wyo.) accused Obama of being very divisive on energy and
the environment.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) anticipated Obamas emphasis
on climate change and sought to confront it with a cold tale. He invited
Howard Abshire, a former Kentucky coal miner, to attend the speech to
hear the presidents energy policies up close. Abshires temporary job is to
remove equipment from closed mines, but McConnell claims the mans true
calling is mining coal. He blames Obama for the lapse.
It underscores the devastation the presidents war on coal has created in
my state, McConnell said of Abshires presence.
The speech comes two months after four Republican senators announced
that they are working to find areas of compromise on climate change. The
energy and environment working group launched by Sens. Kelly Ayotte of
New Hampshire, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Lindsey Graham of South
Carolina and Mark Kirk of Illinois is designed to make natural resource
protection a national priority.
Alexander indicated before the speech yesterday that Obama could get
some Republicans to clap during his final address if he were to talk about

climate change in the right way. An emphasis on nuclear energy and

increased funding for research and development on low-cost clean
electricity would help overcome the impasse on climate policies, he said.
Alexander also expressed support for Mission Innovation, the initiative
launched by the administration at the Paris climate summit to double
clean-tech funding for R&D to $5 billion annually. A private group led by
Bill Gates and other billionaires called the Breakthrough Energy Coalition
is promising to make risky investments in nations that expand their
research budgets.
I have been in favor of doubling the amount of energy research for 10 years
and have supported legislation to do that, Alexander said. I would pay for
it by getting rid of the windmill subsidies.
Billionaire urges GOP to act
Kirk, who faces the prospects of a tough re-election fight against
Democratic Rep. Tammy Duckworth, was less optimistic about Obamas
chances of charming the GOP.
God, guns and grits tend to be the more divisive issues, Kirk said,
suggesting that the climate issue is too fraught with ideological passions for
a prime-time ovation from his party.
Ayotte, for her part, is being rewarded for her centrist positions on global
warming. Among the climate advocates who have complimented her as she
faces a close battle for her seat this fall is Jay Faison, the conservative
entrepreneur whos vowing to spend $175 million to push his party on
climate action. He gave $500,000 to Ayottes political action committee last
Before the speech yesterday, Faison said Obama could change the clean
energy debate by offering solutions that the GOP can support, like
initiatives on hydropower and nuclear energy. Neither were mentioned in
the speech.
Proponents of bigger government and heavy-handed regulation shouldnt
be the only voices advocating for change, Faison said in a statement.
There are conservative clean energy solutions we need to start embracing
that will lead us into the 21st century.

Some were hoping the president would use his speech to press for new
action. Paul Bledsoe, a climate aide in the Clinton White House, was
disappointed that Obama didnt mention his administrations efforts to
phase out hydrofluorocarbons, the super-pollutants that when diminished
can prevent significant warming.
Obama must convince the worlds nations to phase out of HFCs through
the Montreal Protocol in 2016 to have any chance of keeping temperatures
below 2 degrees Celsius, Bledsoe said, adding that its at the very heart of
his climate legacy.
Others were gratified by Obamas increasingly strong rhetoric around
leaving sources of fossil fuels untapped. He suggested that hes working on
a proposal to alter the amount of oil and coal thats developed on public
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, said Annie Leonard,
executive director of Greenpeace USA.

Climate change is the most severe global economic risk of 2016, the World
Economic Forum said yesterday.
The nonprofit economic analysis institution, set to convene next week in
Davos, Switzerland, for its yearly meeting, has labeled climate change or
related environmental phenomenaextreme weather, major natural
catastrophes, mounting greenhouse gas levels, water scarcity, flooding,
storms and cyclonesamong the top five most likely and significant
economic threats the world faced in each of its annual reports since 2011.
The 2016 report, the latest installment of a report the WEF has published
since 2007, marks the first time an environmental risk tops the rankings.
Climate change is exacerbating more risks than ever before in terms of
water crises, food shortages, constrained economic growth, weaker societal
cohesion and increased security risks, Cecilia Reyes, the chief risk officer
of Zurich Insurance Group Ltd., one of the organizations that worked on
the report, said in a statement.

The WEF document does not paint a sanguine picture.

North Americas eastern seaboard, East Asia, Southeast Asia and the South
Pacific are particularly exposed to extreme weather patterns and natural
catastrophes, according to the reporta survey conducted in the fall of 750
experts, who answered questions about 29 types of global risk, like
cyberattacks, government instability and weapons of mass destruction.
Global climate change threatens top producers of wheat, corn, rice and
other agricultural commodities, the report notes. Recent years illustrated
the climate vulnerability of G-20 [Group of 20] countries such as India,
Russia and the United Statesthe breadbasket of the world.
Hot, dry and tense
Climate change is compounding and amplifying other social, economic and
humanitarian stresses globally. It is linked to mass and often forced
migration; violent conflict between nations and regions; water crises; and,
as the world population rises and simultaneously gets hotter, food
shortages, the report reads.
Forced displacement is already at an unprecedented level, the authors
continue, referring to emigration.
About 70 percent of fresh water humans withdraw globally is for
agricultural purposes, according to the WEF, and that figure rises to 90
percent in the worlds poorest countries. Meanwhile, climbing demand for
meat, as emerging-market nations become wealthier, squeezes dry alreadystressed water supplies across the planet.
Based on current trends and needs, the demand for water will be 40
percent more than what can be sustained in 2030, according to the
Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.
In this hotter, water-scarce future, tensions will likely grow between
Unless current water management practices change significantly, many
parts of the world will therefore face growing competition for water
between agriculture, energy, industry and cities, the authors write.

A report commissioned by the Group of 7 nations and published in June

called climate change a threat multipliera term the Department of
Defense often usesand reached comparable conclusions to the WEF study
unveiled yesterday.
That study forecast that nearly $48 trillion is needed by 2035 to meeting
growing energy demand, noting the water of 80 percent of the worlds
citizens is seriously threatened already.
A growing business awareness
The scope of climate impacts is broad and swift, the report says,
highlighting massive rains and flooding in Pakistan in 2010 that killed
about 2,000 and affected the lives of 20 million.
Following the worldwide financial meltdown of 2008, the people WEF
surveyed listed the collapse of investment prices as the most likely and
most grave hazards. Yet that trend shifted.
Environmental worries have been at the forefront in recent years, the
authors wrote, reflecting a sense that climate change-related risks have
moved from hypothetical to certain because insufficient action has been
undertaken to address them.
Nigel Purvis, the CEO of Climate Advisors, a Washington, D.C.-based
consultancy, said the private sector is acutely aware of the threats climate
change wields.
This is growing evidence that the global business community appreciates
the increasing risk that climate change poses to the profitability of
companies and the stability of their markets, said Purvis, who crafted
climate policies within the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations.
Paris a starting point
Economists, regulators and financial experts have become increasingly
vocal about climate risks.
Governor of the Bank of England Mark Carney, in a September speech at
Lloyds of London headquarters, said the warming climate could bring
potentially profound implications for insurers, financial stability and the

Franois Villeroy de Galhau, the French central banker, said in December

that central banks should remain vigilant about and possibly monitor the
economic consequences of climate change, and Atiur Rahman, the central
banker for Bangladesh, is working to expand the green-bond market to
finance climate mitigation projects.
The $4.5 trillion asset manager BlackRock Inc. said last year climate
change is a serious financial concern, and other institutional investors like
AXA SA, Aviva PLC and the California Public Employees Retirement
System have established similar stances, as have European investment
giants Munich Re Group and Swiss Re AG.
Alex Bernhardt, the U.S. head of responsible investment for Mercer LLC,
the global consulting firm with about $9 trillion in assets under
advisement, said the WEF report emphasized that climate change is a
catalytic issue becoming more important within corporate boardrooms.
Bernhardt said focus on climate change issues, which grew apace with
corporate pledges to cut emissions during the run-up to the Paris climate
conference last month, hasnt slowed in recent weeks.
If anything, interest and focus is on the upswing still, he said in an
interview. I would say theres going to be more and more focus on this, he
added. The agreement was a starting point, not an end point, lets put it
that way.
From flooding that can swamp shoreline real estate, to less water for
farmers and businesses domestic and international, to a changing power
supply for electric utilities, Mercer views climate change and its knock-on
effects as investment concerns (ClimateWire, June 8, 2015).
Its a risk that needs to be managed, Bernhardt said. The challenge,
historically, is that its been treated as an uncertainty.