Faced with the prospect of his successor unraveling a slew of environmental regulations and withdrawing the country from a historic climate pact, President Obama on Monday made the case that his push to move the United States toward cleaner energy sources had helped boost the economy.
“We’ve been able to show over the last five, six, eight years that it’s possible to grow the economy very fast and possible to bring down carbon emissions as well,” Obama said during an afternoon news conference. “It’s not just a bunch of rules that we’ve set up.”
Obama made the point that the market is fueling the move toward wind and solar power and creating jobs in both industries. He said that utilities around the country are installing more and more solar panels and that individual states, such as California, have aggressively cut carbon emissions without any push from the federal government. In addition, automakers are exceeding government fuel efficiency standards, he said.
“Even states like Texas that politically tend to oppose me, you’ve seen huge increases in wind power and solar power,” Obama said. “You’ve got some of the country’s biggest companies, like Google and Walmart, all pursuing energy efficiency because it’s good for their bottom line. What we’ve been able to do is embed a lot of these practices into how our economy works. And it’s made our economy more efficient, it’s helped the bottom line of folks, and it’s cleaned up the environment.”
President-elect Donald Trump, who has called the notion of man-made climate change a “hoax,” has vowed to “cancel” the U.S. role in the international Paris climate accord signed last year. The United States and China have been leaders in committing to the agreement and in convincing other countries, both developed and developing, to make pledges toward the shared goal of trying to keep global warming to no more than 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels.
Should the Trump administration seek to scrap the U.S. commitments or simply no longer participate, it’s unclear what global repercussions might follow. If the United States is no longer promising significant emissions cuts, why should major developing economies such as India, which is racing to supply electricity to its immense population, stick to their targets?
Trump will probably rearrange an array of other domestic energy and environmental priorities, too, and in a way that favors the oil and gas industry. In particular, he could cut the Environmental Protection Agency’s role and undermine the so-called Clean Power Plan, Obama’s approach to pushing utilities toward lower carbon emissions. The plan is tied up in federal court.
On Monday, Obama contended that continuing U.S. leadership in the Paris agreement is important not only for domestic reasons but also to make sure that some of the world’s largest polluters live up to their promises to cut emissions in a way that benefits everyone.
“Do I think that the new administration will make some changes? Absolutely,” he said. “But these international agreements, the tradition has been that you carry them forward across administrations, particularly if, once you actually examine them, it turns out that they are doing good for us and binding other countries into behavior that will help us.”
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said Tuesday he spoke with Trump last week and urged him to re-think his opposition to the climate change accord.
Speaking to reporters at a U.N. climate change conference in Marrakech, Morocco, the outgoing U.N. leader said he urged Trump to “really hear and understand the seriousness and urgency” of the matter, and re-evaluate his remarks made in the presidential campaign.
“I am sure that he will make a good, wise decision, and I’m going to discuss this matter more in person on this matter,” he said. “It’s not only me as a secretary general. I’m sure that he will listen to all the voices coming from governments and people around and business communities.”
Carol Morello contributed to this report.