We've seen over the course of 2009 how difficult politics in Washington can be. There seems little doubt that everyone is now aware of the challenges that we face in relation to carbon emissions, greenhouse gases and climate change in general. Through our reliance on fossil fuels and thirst for energy, our civilization has caused significant damage to the natural environment.
Nevertheless, significant measures to cut back on energy consumption and to use market-based instruments to effectively force the largest commercial consumers to consolidate and reduce emissions have met some traditional stumbling blocks in Congress.
“On October 5, President Obama duly signed Executive Order 13514, to directly address the energy efficiency and carbon pollution of the various agencies within his control. This is a very significant move in the war against climate change, as it is estimated that the federal government is the largest consumer of energy in the country.”
While it is clear that President Obama, unlike his predecessor, has every intention to make a difference in as far as the United States' contribution to the overall greenhouse gas emissions problem is concerned, he is of course somewhat limited by the ability of Congress to pass meaningful legislation.
However, there is an area that the president can directly affect and this is in relation to the overall energy efficiency and footprint of the federal government. As the months go by, pressure increases on the United States from the international community for the country to take its rightful place as a leader in the battle against carbon emissions and climate change.
In a matter of weeks, the world community is to gather in Copenhagen, Denmark to start negotiations on a treaty to replace the expiring Kyoto Protocol. Kyoto represented a landmark, yet lost a considerable amount of its impact when the Bush administration failed to engage the principles of the protocol, merely agreeing to ratify its existence.
During a recent United Nations Summit in New York, Obama was roundly criticized for not bringing any new action “to the plate” on behalf of the United States. He was criticized for repeating rhetoric and not coming up with any significant plans. Executive Order 13514 was released shortly thereafter and can be seen as a significant sign that the president is willing to start employing aggressive measures.
The signing of an executive order by President Obama requires all agencies of the federal government to act within 90 days to come up with a target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions over the next 10 years. Rather than set an overall target, the executive branch has decided to seek the input of each agency.
A chairman of the Council on Environmental Quality will be appointed to gather together the results of these internal deliberations and report findings to the president by the beginning of February. At that time, President Obama should be able to gauge the size of the federal government's carbon footprint, a figure which has not been calculated before.
We will likely see the establishment of a common goal for the reduction of greenhouse gases across all agencies over the next 10 years, even as the agency's concentrate on adhering to the other goals set out within the executive order – detailing a 50% reduction in vehicle petroleum use, a 26% improvement in water efficiency, a 50% recycling and waste conversion and a confirmation that essentially all new contracts will now comply with strict sustainability mandates.
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