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Obama Is Right - 'We Need to Act' on Climate Change

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Last night I was closely focused on President Obama's climate speech, both because it was important, but also because I was doing a spot of quick analysis soon after it was delivered on BBC World TV News.

I said then, and on further reflection I still strongly feel, we are now in a much better place today than we were yesterday as a result of Obama's speech. The President of the United States has said "we need to act" on climate change.

Not only do we have a still strong second-term US president vowing to take executive action to set limits on carbon dioxide emissions, but his strong stance is going to empower other politicians and bureaucrats around the world, from China to the EU, India to Australia, as well as here in the UK, to take up the cudgels and fight again for effective action."But it's hopeless without the US" has disappeared as an alibi.

It was encouraging too, that he raised the Keystone tar sands pipeline, when prior commentary had suggested it would be put into the 'too hard' basket. It's hard to know precisely what saying the project could go ahead only if it "does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution" actually means - it so clearly can do nothing much else - but the statement can only be regarded as a good sign, which is how pipelines opponents are seeing it.

The president also addressed head-on the "but the economy can't afford it" argument. Both with the "but we can't afford not to" counter-argument, and by pointing out that there are many jobs in renewable energy, and many savings in energy conservation.

Experts agree that America's target of 17% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, which was Obama's commitment to the Copenhagen climate summit, repeated today, is too low to avoid catastrophic climate change. But stepping in that direction is better than standing still.

Obama, it is to be hoped, will have reinvigorated his supporters. Lots of the business community are speaking out too - Obama referred to the damage from Hurricane Sandy, soon after the global insurance representative group warned that parts of Florida and the UK were now effectively uninsurable due to climate change. And it seems that even the weather is helping Obama out, with Alaska currently baking under a brutal blast of heat.

We are now in a better place - let's hope David Cameron and Owen Paterson take that on board, and include the key target of decarbonisation by 2030 in the UK Energy Bill now before the Lords (whose importance has been often highlighted by Green MP Caroline Lucas and many others earlier this month, including the Opposition) and seriously address a series of other urgent issues, including taking the dreadfully failing Green Deal and creating something affordable for people and strong enough to enable people to warm their homes without contributing to carbon chaos, and maintaining a sensible staffing level in Defra to deal with climate impacts on homes and businesses across the UK.

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