The plans might not match the ambitions of other countries, but the climate speech given by Barack Obama in the sweltering heat at Georgetown University on Tuesday afternoon last week might still be the most significant speech delivered on climate change in the last decade. No other world leader has made such a powerful speech on climate change in recent years, perhaps ever, let alone the President of the worlds biggest economy and the world's second biggest greenhouse gas emitter.
There is no doubt that the President took the biggest risk of his political career with the speech; he was fully aware that if it's was not delivered correctly it could wreck his reputation. But climate change remains an issue he is desperate to see action on and he wants the US to lead on it. He seamlessly talked us through the benefits of green growth to the economy, the reality of having to face increased extreme weather incidents and the future costs of not taking action now.
And after years of trying to work with Congress on the issue, he felt it necessary to take matters into his own hands by bypassing them and directing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to set limits for carbon emissions on both new and existing power plants.
Obama understands the risks, he knows that the climate sceptic Republicans will do all in their power to fight back and block his plans in the form of lawsuits against the Administration and EPA, as well as misinforming the public about climate change and the green economy. But he is ready to take them on.
All this considered, as much as I think Obama should do more on issues such as a US wide carbon tax etc, I accept this is the most he can possibly do at this time. The rest will come later, but this a very important first step.
But this is not just an US issue, it has global implications too. Developing economies such as China and India (which together with the US represent the top three climate polluters in the world) have previously stated that they do not want to take action on curbing emissions before the US does. As such, this might be a key step to enabling this to happen, and Obama and his team know it. In the run up to Obama's climate speech, Foreign Secretary John Kerry visited India, amongst other things discussing actions to curb climate change. Months earlier, the US and China also signed up to a joint partnership to tackle climate change.
Obama has started the ball rolling, the next step is implementing his plans and proving that he is not just talk and no action. The quicker there is a cap on power plant CO2 emissions the better. Then there is the controversial Keystone XL pipeline project; Obama said that the project would not go ahead if it was concluded that approving it would be worse for the climate. Then there is clean energy; Obama announced that he would fast track clean energy projects on public land.This is crucial and will be vital in creating a booming low carbon economy, as demonstrated by the wind power deployment we have seen in Republican states such as Texas, Iowa and Kansas by Governors who might not believe in manmade climate change but have regardless become advocates for renewable energy.
Obama has taken the crucial first step by promising action, now he needs to deliver it.