Obama Climate Policy Fails to Take Off

Yesterday I was still feeling optimistic about the idea that while it might be unrealistic to expect much from the U.S. during international climate negotiations in Doha, we would be able to count on the Obama administration to ramp up efforts in the near future to introduce serious domestic climate legislation and, on the international scene, to live up to the expectations set in 2009 by United States Special Envoy for Climate Change, Todd Stern.

But last night we received news that President Obama signed into law a bill that will exempt U.S. carriers from a European law requiring airlines flying to or from the E.U. to participate in a carbon cap-and-trade system. In a statement to The Hill, the White House asserted that while it is “firmly committed to reducing harmful carbon pollution from civil aviation both domestically and internationally…the application of the EU [Emissions Trading System] to non-EU air carriers is the wrong way to achieve that objective.”

In a move that is largely interpreted as setting the tone for climate action in his second term, Obama has chosen to send the message that U.S. business interests will continue to take priority over responsible action.

While I could easily take issue with the substance of this decision, it is the timing of it that has me perplexed and exasperated. The E.U. announced weeks ago that it had decided to postpone the law for a year. The president could have chosen to delay his decision, but didn’t. Which begs the question, what possessed President Obama to sign this bill into law at the very beginning of the United Nations climate change negotiations and less than a month after his re-election? At a time when Americans and the international community have their eyes turned to the White House wondering what action Obama will take after breaking his climate silence in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, this is the message our president chooses to give? I sure hope he has something up his sleeve that we’re not privy to. Otherwise, the outcome of our hope is nothing short of a disgraceful continuation of the status quo.

In an article published in Grist earlier this month Glenn Hurowitz, a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy said that if President Obama signed the EU airline emissions ban, he would be “giving New Yorkers hungry for climate action a big old extremely soggy blanket.”

So, New York, enjoy your soggy blanket. For a youth movement, hungry for global climate action (see here), the President has given us a slap in the face and the same message on climate change that Romney gave us during the Republican National Convention. The message that hammered at least one nail into the coffin of his presidential campaign. We have been cautiously optimistic about climate negotiation proceedings in Doha, taking hesitant sips from Obama’s cup of hope, but if this action is any indication of what’s to come, we can expect to be idling on the tarmac for a little while longer and we’re not happy about it.

The industry group Airlines for America was quick to add insult to injury, declaring that,“Obama’s signature will allow carriers to reduce emissions through international agreements.” This is a line that could have come directly from the satirical newspaper, The Onion. Not only is the U.S. setting the tone for continued delay on the adoption of any serious mitigation legislation, the aviation industry gets to tell us that what’s really needed are more international agreements.


President Obama, you’ve been given a second chance to be on the right side of history and right now, despite all the fanfare of the last few weeks, you’re not even straddling the fence.

  • Jessie

    Such a disappointment!