Just one week since he secured a second term in the White House, President Barack Obama signalled that addressing global climate change will be a priority in the coming four years, including promoting a national "education process" on the issue. Responding to a reporter’s question during his first press conference since March, Obama said that Hurricane Sandy fit a pattern of an “extraordinarily large number of severe weather events” in the US and abroad.
“We can’t attribute any particular weather event to climate change. What we do know is the temperature around the globe is increasing, faster than was predicted even 10 years ago,” Obama said.
Obama is scheduled to tour storm damage in New York City on Thursday. In the wake of the storm, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg endorsed the President specifically because of his support for policies to tackle climate change.
Obama has rarely addressed climate science in public appearances, choosing to frame the climate issue as one of clean energy investment. The House passed comprehensive climate change legislation in 2009, but it never passed the Senate, and the White House did not make it a major priority at the time.
But at Wednesday's press conference, and fresh off a resounding re-election, Obama indicated that he wants to move forward with a process to engage elected officials in discussions about addressing climate change, and promoting a national “education process” on this issue, calling such steps necessary to determine "what realistically can we do long-term to make sure that this is not something we’re passing on to future generations that’s going to be very expensive and very painful to deal with."
Obama reaffirmed his view that man-made emissions of greenhouse gases are contributing to global warming, and stated his intent to continue to take action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
“I am a firm believer that climate change is real, that it is impacted by human behavior and carbon emissions,” he said, noting that, “we have an obligation to future generations to do something about it.”
Obama listed his accomplishments in his first term, chief among them instituting stringent new fuel efficiency standards for cars and light trucks. However, he did not mention greenhouse gas regulations issued by the US EPA, which would limit emissions from certain power plants. “We haven’t done as much as we need to,” Obama said.
The President was quick to note that obstacles remain and he said that it’s unclear where Democrats and Republicans stand on a more comprehensive plan.
Obama made it clear that any comprehensive climate change policy solution would need to fit into his agenda for job growth.
"I think the American people right now have been so focussed and will continue to be focussed on our economy and jobs and growth that, you know, if the message is somehow we’re going to ignore jobs and growth simply to address climate change, I don’t think anybody’s going to go for that," Obama said. "I won’t go for that."
"If, on the other hand, we can shape an agenda that says we can create jobs, advance growth and make a serious dent in climate change and be an international leader, I think that’s something that the American people would support."
In recent weeks there have been rumours that lawmakers from both parties may be open to a carbon tax as part of a solution to the looming “fiscal cliff,” but Obama did not endorse that approach.