Is Obama Preparing to Revise His Climate Target?

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In his inaugural address, President Obama promised to "restore science to its rightful place," and indeed, that idea has been a central theme of his transition. With his various appointments, he has surrounded himself with the best scientific minds in the nation. Trouble is, his interim target for capping emissions — down to 1990 levels by 2020 — falls short of what science recommends.

It was a promise he made on the campaign trail, and it may be the first promise he breaks — by exceeding it. At least that’s the hope, now that the target has conveniently disappeared from the list of goals posted in the Energy and the Environment section on the White House web site. Alden Meyer, the director of policy and strategy for the Union of Concerned Scientists who noted the web site change, remarked that "the first step in revising one’s position is to stop restating it."

There is pressure building on Obama to do so. Joe Romm presented the case in a paper called The U.S. needs a tougher 2020 GHG emissions target published by the Center for American Progress a week before the inauguration. In his first remarks as chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee last week, Henry Waxman made it clear that he intended to develop climate legislation by Memorial Day consistent with the science. And the world’s chief climate scientist — Rajendra Pachauri of the IPCC — the man whose institution shared the Nobel Prize with Al Gore — last week told a gathering at the WorldWatch Institute in Washington that the President’s target was not enough. (See video at 55:20.)

I’d like to see him revise the statement that he made about stabilizing emissions — bringing them down to the level of 1990 by 2020.

I’d like him to suggest something akin to what the European Union has set itself as a target: the 20-20-20 target — because I think that really shows a level of seriousness in meeting this challenge which I think is also consistent with the position he’s been taking.

Europe by 2020 is going to reduce emission 20% [below] 1990 levels and also source 20% of its electricty from renewables.

Earlier in his remarks, Dr. Pachauri also made a business case for US leadership on climate action (at 30:18).

I believe it is very important for the US to lead and to get engaged in the whole process of mitigating greenhouse gas emissions because otherwise we won’t reach global stabilization targets.

And I think U.S. industry — if it relly knows what’s good for it — will have to be part of this effort because otherwise the rest of the world will move to carbon products.

We’ve seen that in General Motors where the saying was "what’s good for General Motors is good for America." Well, General Motors is going bankrupt and I hope that doesn’t happen to America. Other automobile manufacturers had the wisdom and the vision to be able to move ahead wih new technology.

I think it is important for the U.S. to lead.

Stay tuned.