US President Barack Obama’s climate change initiative, called the Clean Power Plan, announced last week, may be criticised as a programme which has come too late and offering too little. It was announced just three months before the UN climate conference in Paris and towards the end of Obama’s tenure as President. The programme imposes restrictions on carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, which account for over 30 per cent of America’s greenhouse gas emissions. It requires them to cut emissions by 32 per cent from their 2005 levels by 2030. An earlier draft had set a 30 per cent target. Even without a legal mandate, emissions have declined by 15 per cent from 2005 to 2013. This is because of a spontaneous shift from coal-based plants to gas-based production for economic reasons. Since a good part of the target has been achieved, the initiative may not seem too ambitious.
Obama has been criticised for not doing enough on the climate change front, though it was an important plank in his 2008 Presidential campaign. He has, till now, not moved much from the obstructionist and conservative US policy on it, though he signed a pact on cutting emissions with Chinese President Xi Jinping which set a target for carbon dioxide emissions of China. But even the target now set for the US may run into hurdles. The legislation to enforce it may find the going tough in Congress. The Republican-controlled states and the coal lobby are certain to oppose it. States are expected to seek an extension without penalty, though there are incentives for early compliance. This may delay the implementation of the programme. Lobbies which support coal-fired power plants and mines may offer stiff opposition because many of them may face closure. The shift to renewable energy sources like wind and solar energy may prove expensive in the short run.
But the initiative has also been seen as an action plan which is better late than never. Some enterprises which have till now been silent on or opposed to a climate change programme have expressed their support. Some others have written to states to implement the guidelines because the plan will create jobs and a sustainable economy in the long run. There is also expectation that the US may announce a more comprehensive plan at the Paris conference. All the initiatives to counter climate change have failed in the past because the US-led the developed countries’ opposition to them. There may be some hope of positive action now.