Thursday, January 19, 2017

President Obama's Climate Achievements (2009 - 2016)

Here is a year by year account of President Barack Obama's long list of climate achievements. During his presidency, emissions and growth decoupled. Emissions from the energy sector fell by 9.5 percent while the economy grew by more than 10 percent.

Unlike the President-Elect and the incoming administration, Obama acknowledges the veracity of climate science and like any sane person he calls the warming trend "terrifying". Juxtapose Trump's dismissal of climate change as a "hoax" with the position of the Republican presidential nominee John McCain eight years ago. During the campaign Obama and McCain had the same take on climate change. Shortly after Obama's victory, the Republican party violently shifted to the right which led to knee-jerk obstructionism and party-wide climate denial.

Obama's agenda was also undermined by the fossil fuel industry (and their GOP minions), as well as related movements including the Tea Party and super PACs. Together these efforts eroded American's support for the veracity of global warming and by extension climate action.

Throughout his two terms, Republicans religiously opposed Obama's every move especially his climate action plans. In the absence of congressional support, President Obama found some creative ways to move the climate agenda forward. The Clean Power Plan was arguably his crowning achievement. Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA issued regulations on dangerous pollutants. Other notable achievements include Obama's leadership to secure the Paris Climate Agreement and toxic chemical reform legislation.

Here is a year by year breakdown of some of Obama's climate accomplishments during his eight years in office.


In 2008 climate action gained a champion in the most powerful office on Earth. The election of Barack Obama buoyed the hopes of those who realized that environmental leadership must come from the world's preeminent economic and industrial power. President Obama embodied global hopes for a greener world. The Obama team pledged to invest in clean energy and create green jobs. Cynical chants of "drill baby drill" were drowned out by choruses of "yes we can."


In 2009 Obama emerged as a climate leader who advanced the growth of the green economy with stimulus spending that helped to pull the nation and the world out of recession. In his Inaugural Address President Obama promised climate action and then he delivered. He did more in his first 100 days on climate than any President ever has.  He instructed the EPA to develop a rule to regulate emissions and he launched a renewable energy revolution. At the end of the year Obama helped to bring the world together to make progress at COP15.  For links to a more detailed summary of President Obama's achievements in 2009 click here.


Both Republicans and many Democrats did not support the president's climate and energy agenda. Obama began to use his executive powers to enact change starting with an EO that mandates reductions in the federal government's GHG emissions. In his State of the Union address he reaffirmed his commitment to climate action. Throughout the year he continued working to advance clean energy and he launched the "HomeStar" program. He spearheaded the passage of the Affordable Health Act (Obama-Care) and the EPA moved forward with its cleaner air rules. For links to a more detailed summary of President Obama's achievements in 2010 click here.


In 2011 President Obama instructed the EPA to provide improved fuel efficiency vehicle standards.  The President once again reiterated his commitment to climate action in his State of the Union Address. The US Supreme Court recognized the EPA's right to regulate carbon and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson proposed standards for the airline industry. For links to a more detailed summary of President Obama's achievements in 2011 click here.


In his State of the Union speech, President Obama once again emphasized climate action. Climate change was one of the reasons that Colin Powell and  Mayor Bloomberg endorsed Obama. Although Obama was criticized for not doing more on climate there were some salient reasons why he was prevented from doing more.  Nonetheless, he was able to advance on a number of fronts. This included: Renewable energy, energy efficiency, vehicle standards, electric vehicles, and green jobs. As President Obama headed into the 2012 election he had already amassed a long list of climate accomplishments. The re-election of President Obama and more representation from democrats in Congress offered hope. Some saw it as a repudiation of Republican obstructionism. Regardless of the reasons for his reelection, it began a second term that saw far more action on the climate and environmental fronts.  As President Obama said in his victory speech: "the best is yet to come". For links to a more detailed summary of President Obama's achievements in 2012 click here.


In the spring and summer of 2013, President Obama went into high gear on climate action. On both the domestic and international levels Obama made powerful strides.  He positioned the US as the true global climate leader. In April the US agreed to work with China, Japan, the EU, Brazil, India and South Africa to reduce climate change causing emissions. In a joint statement these countries announced that they would accelerate action by advancing cooperation on technology, research, conservation, and renewable energy. The President's climate action plan was announced in June and it has far reaching implications. Obama launched a clean energy trust fund and in his State of the Union address, he even resurrected Nixon to encourage Republicans to support his climate agenda.  He also said in this speech, "We Will Respond to the Threat of Climate Change". The President refuted the number of jobs claimed to be associated with the Keystone XL.  One of the most important moments for the President was his historic Georgetown University speech on June 25th. He made bold statements about energy, transportation, and homes. He also signed a raft of Executive Orders consistent with these statements. The DOE revised commercial energy efficiency standards. However, the crowning achievement of 2013 was the new carbon limits for power plants. For links to a more detailed summary of President Obama's achievements in 2013 click here.


In 2014 the White House published a report that illustrated the cost of delaying action on climate change. The same year China and the US signed an agreement to lower emissions. The EPA's Clean Power Plan and vehicle emissions standards were introduced and we also saw serious progress to reduce short-lived pollutants like methane. Energy efficiency and the idea of putting a price on carbon are other powerful ways of combating climate change that gained some traction in 2014.  For links to a more detailed summary of President Obama's achievements in 2014 click here.


President Obama emerged as the greenest president in American history and the most sustainable actor on the world stage in 2015. He promised to step up his climate efforts in a pledge he made in Alaska. This includes the release of his Clean Power plan, reducing Shell's drilling permits by half and then effectively shutting down Arctic drilling in US waters. He also killed the KXL pipeline project and he signed an Executive Order that mandates significant reductions to the amount of GHGs generated by the federal government. Obama also succeeded in bringing together some of America's leading corporations to combat climate change. He reached out to people and young people in particular through Facebook. In addition to cutting GHGs the President also announced a number of renewable energy initiatives designed to help the US move away from fossil fuels. Obama also signed ambitious agreements with other nations including China, France, Brazil and India. As the year came to a close Obama played a crucial role in getting the world on-board to sign the final agreement at COP21 in Paris. Obama also pledged $3 billion to the Green Climate Fund.  For links to a more detailed summary of President Obama's achievements in 2015 click here.


In January President Obama delivered a State of the Union speech which emphasized climate change. In February Obama proposed an oil tax and clean energy infrastructure spending. Obama also signed a climate cooperation agreement with Canada and the two nations agreed to protect the Arctic. In April the President formalized his $3 billion pledge to the Green Climate Fund and in March Obama stymied offshore oil and gas drilling. At the end of the year, the Obama administration imposed more restrictions on oil and gas drilling. Obama reigned in methane emissions and the President found some clever ways of protecting the Paris Agreement. Obama delivered a powerful speech in support of democracy at the Democratic National Convention and he also led an initiative that saw the leaders of North America strike a deal on climate and the environment. For links to a more detailed summary of President Obama's achievements in 2016 click here.

For a comprehensive summary of all of the Obama administration's climate accomplishments click here. For an expansive review of 450 Obama accomplishments click here.

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