US President Barack Obama Monday vowed to lead the world on climate change as he set about shredding Bush administration global warming policies with new domestic measures designed to force the development of fuel-efficient cars.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton meanwhile picked a veteran of the Kyoto Protocol talks as her envoy for climate change, as the administration sent clear signals as world leaders target a historic global warming pact this year.
“We will make it clear to the world that America is ready to lead,” Obama said, in an apparent swipe at former president George W. Bush’s reluctance to take control of international efforts to combat climate change.
“To protect our climate and our collective security, we must call together a truly global coalition,” the president said, just six days after his inauguration, in a ceremony in the East Room of the White House.
Obama signed memoranda designed to prod the struggling US auto industry to design new fuel-efficient vehicles to lessen US dependence on energy sources which he said bankroll dictators, and to spur the US economy.
“The days of Washington dragging its heels are over,” Obama said.
“My administration will not deny facts — we will be guided by them,” Obama said, in an apparent dig at Bush aides accused of subverting science for ideological reasons.
Obama required the Environmental Protection Agency to reconsider whether to grant California a waiver to regulate car emissions blamed for contributing to global warming.
Former president George W. Bush’s administration had blocked efforts by the vast western state and a dozen others to impose their own limits on carbon dioxide gas emissions.
California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger reacted with delight.
“With this announcement from President Obama less than a week into his administration, it is clear that California and the environment now have a strong ally in the White House,” he said in a statement.
Obama also ordered the Transportation Department to produce guidelines to require US cars to reach average fuel efficiency of 35 miles per gallon by 2020.
But the new president also made clear he would ask for action from giant developing economies to do more to limit greenhouse gases.
“I’ve made it clear that we will act, but so too must the world.”
“That’s how we will deny leverage to dictators and dollars to terrorists, and that’s how we will ensure that nations like China and India are doing their part, just as we are now willing to do ours.”
Environmentalists praised Obama, after years battling the White House on climate change issues.
“It’s a terrific beginning,” David Yarnold, executive director of the Environmental Defense Fund told AFP.
“It fires the starting gun for millions of new jobs, and amplifying the stimulus package and welding it to environmental benefits — and it highlights how those issues are inseparable.”
Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope welcomed the California move.
“This action deserves the loudest applause, President Obama is making good on campaign promises and sending yet another signal that global warming and clean energy are top priorities for his administration.”
Obama says promoting alternative energy will stimulate the recession-mired US economy and reduce demand on foreign sources of energy.
“America will not be held hostage to dwindling resources, hostile regimes, and a warming planet,” Obama said.
“We will not be put off from action because action is hard. Now is the time to make tough choices,” said the president, in a nod to critics of climate change reform who argue action will be painful for the hard-hit economy.
In another sharp break from Bush, Clinton picked Todd Stern as her envoy for climate change, a State Department official said.
Stern is a “former Clinton White House official with experience at Kyoto and Buenos Aires climate change negotiations,” the official told AFP on condition of anonymity.
Stern took part in the Kyoto Protocol negotiations from 1997 to 1999, before becoming an advisor to the secretary of the treasury from 1999 to 2001.
Bush rejected the Kyoto Protocol in 2001 dealing a blow to global climate change efforts, warning it would deal damage the US economy.
The Clinton administration agreed the Protocol but the pact was never ratified by the Senate.