Updated on Jan 28, 2009 – SCMP
International efforts to tackle climate change have been greatly boosted with US President Barack Obama’s vow that his nation will take a leadership role on energy and the environment. With the stroke of a pen, he has started turning the rhetoric that was a centrepiece of his election campaign into practice, ordering stricter emissions standards for vehicles. The step is small and fraught with opposition, but it reverses the damaging approach followed by the previous administration that put ideology ahead of science. Global warming is a scientifically proven threat that cannot be ignored; the world should back the new US president with such initiatives so that it can come to grips with the pollutants causing temperatures to rise.
The US is the world’s biggest per capita producer of the greenhouse gases causing global warming. Former president George W. Bush’s refusal to join other industrialised countries in working for reductions doomed chances of progress. Mr Obama has brought hope where there was none. His kick-starting the process by telling American automakers to produce cars and trucks that are fuel efficient signals a U-turn from which there must be no reversing.
Mr Obama faces significant opposition. His climate change tactics are being driven by policymakers from the US east and west coasts, where environmentalism is strong. They are at odds with lawmakers from the states in between, even those from the president’s Democratic Party; petrol and coal are essential to power the industries that provide the region’s employment. There is no doubt that the timetable for cleaner energy is ambitious, but every effort has to be made to keep to targets.
Global warming affects us all. For some, the impact is life-changing; arable land is becoming desert, unpredictable storms and droughts are increasingly severe and seas are rising.
International efforts to combat climate change must continue. The process must involve developing nations as well as the developed world but the US has a key role. It is encouraging to see that Mr Obama has set his country on the necessary path.