State of the Union address: Obama calls for US leadership on climate change

“No challenge poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change”.

With these words US President Obama opened the part of his annual State of the Union address related to climate change. The speech, delivered on Tuesday night, devoted less than 3 minutes to the issue (from min. 43:25 to 46:00 in the  full video below).

Obama firstly recalled that 2014 was the warmest year on record and that 14 out of the 15 hottest years occurred in the last 15 years of this century. He then strongly criticized the Republican rhetoric on climate change espacially on the fact that there is not enough information to justify action. He emphasized that, although he is not a scientist, he knows a lot of really good scientists at Nasa, and Noaa, and at  major US universities.

“The best scientists in the world are all telling us that our activities are changing the climate, and if we do not act forcefully, we will continue to see rising oceans, longer, hotter heat waves, dangerous droughts and floods, and massive disruptions that can trigger greater migration, conflict, and hunger around the globe”.

Recalling the main message from the recent Pentagon’s assessment, the US President stressed that climate change should really be treated as a risk for the US national security. In this regard, he emphasized the unprecedented efforts the US put in place in the last six years to progress on the energy field as well as on land and water conservation. By indirectly referring to harsh debate on the Keystone pipeline and the latest EPA regulations, he stressed that

“I will not let the Congress endanger the health of our children by turning back the clock on our efforts. I am determined to make sure American leadership drives international action”.

Obama concluded this section by mentioning the US-China recent “historic announcement”. He expressed his hopes on the fact that, following the example of the world’s two largest economies, other countries nations will now join the action and an international agreement will be finally reached at the end of this year.

However, other elements related to the climate and energy debate emerged during the talk. In particular, when the President announced that the shadow of the economic crisis has passed, he stressed the opportunity for the US to wisely use its power to defeat new threats and protect the planet rather than accepting an unfair economy led by costly conflicts. In addition, in addressing the huge changes that the US energy landscape is experiencing he said:

“We believed we could reduce our dependence on foreign oil and protect our planet. And today, America is number one in oil and gas. America is number one in wind power. Every three weeks, we bring online as much solar power as we did in all of 2008. And thanks to lower gas prices and higher fuel standards, the typical family this year should save $750 at the pump.”

In the official Republican party’s response, Senator Joni Ernst asked the president to stop opposing the Keystone oil pipeline without directly mentioning climate change related issues.

(Image: President Barack Obama acknowledges applause before he delivers the State of the Union address in the House Chamber at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., Jan. 20, 2015. Credits: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)