US president Barack Obama has announced the first ever limits on US power plant emissions and declared climate change the greatest threat facing the world.
“No challenge poses a greater threat to our future and future generations than a change in climate,” Mr Obama said as he unveiled his administration’s ramped-up plan to cut carbon emissions from power plants.
“There is such a thing as being too late.
“Most of the time, the issues we deal with are ones that are temporally bound and we can anticipate things getting better if we plug away at it, even incrementally.
“But this is one of those rare issues, because of its magnitude, because of its scope, that if we don’t get it right, we may not be able to reverse. And we may not be able to adapt sufficiently.”
As a step to try to adapt, Mr Obama announced power plant owners must cut carbon dioxide emissions by 32 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030.
Electric power plants account for about 40 per cent of US emissions of carbon dioxide, the most common greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change.
Mr Obama described the move as “the single most important step America has ever taken in the fight against global climate change”.
He rejected criticism that his plan would increase energy bills for Americans, hurt the poor, and cost jobs.
“This is the right thing to do,” he said.
The announcement fires the starting gun on a months-long environmental drive that will shape his legacy.
Later this August, Mr Obama will visit the Arctic state of Alaska to highlight the impact of climate change.
“Our fellow Americans have already seen their communities devastated by melting ice and rising oceans,” Mr Obama said.
In September, when he will host Pope Francis at the White House, they are expected to make an impassioned collective call for action.
And in December, representatives from around the world will gather in Paris to hash out rules designed to limit global temperature increases to two degrees Celsius.
EU commissioner for climate action Miguel Arias Canete hailed Mr Obama’s clean power plan as “a positive step” to cut carbon emissions ahead of the Paris summit.
“The clean power plan is a positive step forward in the genuine efforts of the United States to cut its emissions,” Mr Canete tweeted.
New measures criticised as ‘overreach and heavy-handed’
However, Mr Obama’s invocations got short shrift from the Republican-controlled Congress, which described the measures as “overreach” and “heavy-handed”.
In its initial proposal a year ago, the Obama administration had set the carbon emissions cut from the power sector at 30 per cent.
Climate change is a hot-button issue in American politics and cuts are politically sensitive because coal, among the dirtiest energy sources, remains a major US industry.
It has some influential supporters, including senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, a senator from coal-rich Kentucky.
“Not only will these massive regulations fail to meaningfully affect the global climate, but they could actually end up harming the environment by outsourcing energy production to countries with poor environmental records like India and China,” Mr McConnell said.
The leader of the House of Representatives Kevin McCarthy accused Obama of choosing a “green legacy over a growing economy”.
Industry lobby group the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity previewed likely legal action, saying Mr Obama’s administration was “pursuing an illegal plan that will drive up electricity costs and put people out of work”.
Accusing detractors of “scaremongering,” Mr Obama insisted suggestions of higher electricity costs, power shortages and a damaged economy would prove incorrect.
“When president (Richard) Nixon decided to do something about the smog that was choking our cities, they warned that it would ruin the auto industry. It didn’t happen,” Mr Obama said.
“In 1990, when Republican president George H W Bush decided to do something about acid rains, (they) said electricity bills would go up, lights would go off. It didn’t happen.
“We only get one home. We only get one planet. There’s no ‘plan B’,” he said.