Obama leads on climate change, but who will follow?

Mike Duncan

As world leaders gathered in New York City last week to attend the United Nations summit on climate change, some important nations were missing. India and China, which represent one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions, declined.

When President Barack Obama announced he’d be attending the session, some hoped it would pressure countries like China to reciprocate. The decision of China and India however, should come as no surprise. Despite pursuing an aggressive climate change program here in the United States, Obama has been unable to get other nations to buy in to his vision or strategy because other nations appropriately are putting their economic welfare first.

Global leadership had to be a central tenet of the president’s climate plan because unilateral action by the United States would provide almost no environmental change while creating devastating economic consequences. The centerpiece of the administration’s climate plan is its proposed rules to regulate carbon emissions from our nation’s power plants.

These rules would reduce global carbon dioxide concentrations by less than one percent, and reduce global average temperatures by 2/100th of a degree. Increases in sea levels would be reduced by 1/100th of an inch — that’s about the thickness of three sheets of paper. The EPA knows this. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy told Congress that it is “unlikely that any specific one step is going to be seen as having a visible impact” on global climate change.

While the proposal would do little on the environment, it would do a lot to damage the economy. An analysis of the climate plan authored by the Natural Resources Defense Council, which the administration used as a blueprint for its own proposal, found that most states would see double digit price increases for electricity and substantial increases in natural gas prices.

The only way for the administration to justify its climate plan in light of these impacts is to argue that it is providing global leadership, but this week’s U.N. summit is further proof that other nations are not following.

China is the world’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide, responsible for nearly one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions. While China established an Air Pollution Control Plan, it is expected to have just a small impact on its emissions because of the exclusion of the country’s primary coal producing and consuming region. Even if China meets its current national carbon emissions goals, overall carbon dioxide emissions are still expected to increase.

Surveying the world, other global leaders are putting a priority on the economic well-being of their citizens. Unfortunately, President Obama seems determined to take the United States down a path that no other nation will follow.

Mike Duncan is president and CEO of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity.