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Climate Action Plan: both broad and bold
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The United States President’s Climate Action Plan released on 25 June 2013 makes a welcome read, says Karin Ireton, Head of Sustainability Management at Standard Bank Group. Here Karin shares her thoughts on Barack Obama plans and raises a few questions.

It is high time global leaders re-engaged the climate debate and at least articulated bold plans to reduce global vulnerability through positive action.

For many who pinned their hopes on Mr Obama this appears to be him finally stepping up to the plate on this issue. It is, of course, much more likely now that he can succeed with many of these initiatives.

The combination of reduced carbon dioxide equivalent emissions off the back of the extensive fracking that is taking place or planned in the United States and the reality check provided by numerous natural disasters means that the United States citizenry is more likely to accept this bold plan.

As the case for action states: “Last year alone there were 11 different weather and climate disaster events with estimated losses exceeding $1-billion each across the United Sates.”

The plan says that taken together these 11 events resulted in over $110-billion in estimated damages, which would make it the second-costliest year on record. “Last year was the warmest year ever in the contiguous United States and about one-third of all Americans experienced 10 days or more of 100-degree heat. The 12 hottest years on record have all come in the last 15 years”.

It goes on to link health impacts, economic losses and rising food prices to the extreme weather that is linked to climate change.

The power of this plan is that it doesn’t hone in on a single sector, like the mining and manufacturing community to take the pain. It has something for everyone. It offers the hope of innovation, new investments in less harmful technology, job creation. It also offers practical solutions linked to domestic choices of equipment, transportation, the use of energy by the military (one of the biggest United States consumers of energy) and so on.

Can the plan be achieved in totality? Probably not, but it is refreshing to once again have a leader’s voice raised with what is both an aspirational and a practical way forward. Is it a political statement? Absolutely, he is a politician after all. But he is also demonstrating leadership in this complex area.

As the progress on international climate talks stalls, floundering with the need for visible progress and the political will to move forward, this statement is welcome. The European Union fell off that perch some time ago. There is a possibility that a re-motivated United States might finally do what most of us think they should have done a decade ago – take responsibility for their excessive energy and fuel consumption and resulting carbon dioxide equivalent emissions and do something to ensure we don’t all feel the resulting pain.

The United States President’s Climate Action Plan talks about cutting carbon emissions from power plants and driving leadership in efficient natural gas, nuclear, renewables and clean coal technology.

Not everyone will agree with including nuclear in that list, but it does have the ability to provide base load power with far lower emissions an advantage which has to be weighed against significant cost premiums, long term safety considerations and public concerns about nuclear energy and the misuse of nuclear fuels and wastes.

The plan provides practical steps for unlocking long term investment in clean energy innovation, increasing fuel economy standards and investing in advanced transportation technology and reducing energy bills for American families and businesses by developing energy efficiency standards for household equipment.

There is a commitment to federal agencies taking the lead in improving building efficiency and contracting for energy savings.

There is a focus on making communities and the investment climate resilient, by building climate risk-management considerations into federal infrastructure decisions and natural resource management planning. Good luck to him in dealing with some of the States, one or two of which last year banned references to sea-level rise linked to climate change in their policy documents. It is, however, a good start.

The Climate Action Plan is both broad and bold. Hopefully the United States President can persuade enough members of the American public to get behind it.

The plan should be applauded and the leadership welcomed. Hopefully positive reinforcement will have the desired effect.

For information on what Standard Bank Group is doing to address climate change issues, see www.standardbank.com/sustainability.
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