Climate Change, Presidential Power, and Leadership: "We Can't Wait"

By Wold, Chris | Case Western Reserve Journal of International Law, Fall 2012 | Go to article overview
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Climate Change, Presidential Power, and Leadership: "We Can't Wait"

Wold, Chris, Case Western Reserve Journal of International Law


The United States now has a climate change policy focused on reducing carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases (GHGs). Most of this policy has been generated by the Obama Administration through executive action, primarily within the Environmental Protection Agency. To meet U.S. pledges to reduce GHG emissions by 17% by 2020 and 83% by 2050, President Obama must do more because it is clear that Congress will not address climate change. As described in this Article, there is much more the president can do. Using his treaty-making authority, he can take a more positive, constructive approach to reducing GHG emissions in the climate change negotiations. He also has a number of tools available within the World Trade Organization for encouraging fuel efficiency, disseminating technologies that would mitigate GHG emissions, and eliminating fossil fuel subsidies. Domestically, he can direct agencies to impose higher standards on existing sources of GHG emissions rather focusing solely on new and modified sources. He can also do much more to reduce emissions of powerful but short-lived climate forcers, such as methane and black carbon. For example, 99Vo of black carbon emissions could be eliminated from existing trucks by requiring the use of regenerative filters. Lastly, the president could redirect funding to climate prizes that reward innovation in developing transformative technologies to reduce GHG emissions. In this political climate, and with climate science pointing to ever greater climate impacts, President Obama must use the presidency to act. We can't wait.






       A. International Leadership

          1. UNFCCC Climate Negotiations

          2. International Aviation

          3. International Trade

             a. Climate Change Friendly Goods and Services

             b. Climate Change and "Like Product"

             c. A Climate Subsidies Agreement

       B. The Carbon Agenda

          1. An NSPS Rule for Existing Fossil Fuel Fired Power Plants

          2. Aircraft Emissions

          3. Marine Vessel Emissions

          4. Other Non-Road Engines and Vehicles

       C. Short-lived Climate Forcers

          1. Black Carbon

          2. Methane

             a. Methane to Markets Partnership

             b. Natural Gas

          3. Tropospheric Ozone

       D. Technology

          1. Climate Change Technology Prizes

          2. Investments in Renewable Energy Infrastructure

          3. Eliminate Fossil Fuel Subsidies



In 2007, then-Senator Barack Obama wrote, "As the world's largest producer of greenhouse gases, America has the responsibility to lead." (1) As President, he has led. At the domestic level, working primarily through the Environmental Protection Agency, President Obama has increased fuel economy standards, (2) imposed new limits on greenhouse gas emissions from "major emitting facilities," (3) and imposed limits on emissions relating to the development of oil and gas, (4) among many other things. (5) As he has said, he must use his executive power because "We Can't Wait" for Congress to act on climate change. (6)

Nonetheless, he must do more. President Obama has pledged to the international community that the United States will reduce its greenhouse gases by 17% of 2005 levels by 2020 and by 83% by 2050. (7) The President has also set a goal of ensuring that "[b]y 2035 we will generate 80 percent of our electricity from a diverse set of clean energy sources--including renewable energy sources like wind, solar, biomass, and hydropower; nuclear power; efficient natural gas; and clean coal." (8) None of his actions come close to meeting these goals.

Moreover, he must do more to help the international community reach its goal of keeping average global temperatures from increasing 2[degrees]C above pre-industrial levels.

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Climate Change, Presidential Power, and Leadership: "We Can't Wait"


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