Under Shadow of Trump, Lame Duck Obama Unveils Bold Climate Plan

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Under Shadow of Trump, Lame Duck Obama Unveils Bold Climate Plan

The plan lays out how the US government—if so inclined—could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than 80 percent by 2050

Speaking at the United Nations climate conference, Secretary of State John Kerry said he couldn't "speculate about what policies our president-elect will pursue." (Photo: Carlo Allegri/ Reuters)

Speaking at the United Nations climate conference, Secretary of State John Kerry said he couldn't "speculate about what policies our president-elect will pursue." (Photo: Carlo Allegri/ Reuters)

Under the shadow of President-elect Donald Trump, and his promises to quash all attempts to limit the burning of fossil fuels, the lame duck Obama administration on Wednesday unveiled its hugely ambitious plan for combating climate change.

The plan, announced at the United Nations climate talks in Marrakesh, lays out how the United States government—if so inclined—could reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by more than 80 percent below 2005 levels by 2050.

"It's a long-term vision," said Brian Deese, a senior adviser to President Barack Obama, introducing the "U.S. Mid-Century Strategy for Deep Decarbonization" (pdf).

"It's not a policy prescription. It's not a set of specific recommendations or a blueprint for any future administration," he continued, noting that it would not replace the U.S.' pledge under the Paris accord, known as the "nationally determined contributions" or NDCs, to cut emissions by at least 26 percent by 2025. 

"As the world's largest economy and second largest GHG emitter, the United States plays an important role in the global response to climate change," the report states unequivocally, echoing the language of the global climate movement. 

Thus, the blueprint identifies three major categories of action for "achieving deep economy-wide net GHG emissions reductions," which include: transitioning to a low-carbon energy system by deploying renewable energy in the "transportation, buildings, and industrial sectors;" removing carbon from the atmosphere through natural systems, such as forests and soil, and imposed, like controversial carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies; and reducing other GHG emissions, "such as methane, nitrous oxide, and fluorinated gases, which result mainly from fossil fuel production, agriculture, waste, and refrigerants."

Going a step further, in the coming days, the Interior Department is also expected to unveil an "offshore oil and natural gas plan that blocks new drilling leases in the Arctic Ocean through 2022," The Hill reported Wednesday.

The Obama administration's acknowledgement of the severity of the climate crisis was underscored in this final effort, and stands in stark contrast to the stance of his successor. Trump's frequent assertions that climate change is a "hoax," promises to shred environmental regulations, and vows to roll-back the country's commitment to the Paris accord have worried many across the globe.

Speaking from a news conference at COP22, Secretary of State John Kerry said that it's "abundantly clear we have the ability to prevent the worst impacts of climate change...But again we're forced to ask: Do we have the collective will? Because our success is not going to happen by accident."

According to the Huffington Post, Kerry further said that he couldn't "speculate about what policies our president-elect will pursue." But he noted that "some issues look a little bit different when you're actually in office compared to when you're on the campaign trail."

But the forecast is dim, as reporting on Trump's transition to power indicates that the president-elect will likely surround himself with fossil fuel industry lobbyists and known climate change skeptics.

"Whether or not the United States can realize the future laid out in the report or a bolder one...is highly uncertain," reported Zahra Hirji with Inside Climate News.

"A Donald Trump presidency threatens to not only stall the country's efforts on climate change, but also move it in the opposite direction," Hirji continues, noting that as the "world's largest economy and is the second-biggest greenhouse gas polluter...U.S. inaction would have wide consequences."

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