Barack Obama makes history as he takes office with green agenda

As Barack Obama is sworn in as the 44th President of the United States, he is widely expected to usher in a new era for green leadership from the US. Obama places the environment high on his agenda. On his historic victory speech on 5 November, he cited 'a planet in peril' as one of the three key challenges he will face as President, alongside 'two wars' and 'the worst financial crisis in a century'. One of Barack Obama's key election promises was an energy policy that will fight climate change, create jobs and reduce the US's dependence on foreign oil and gas.

During his election campaign, Obama said he planned to cut greenhouse emissions by 80 per cent by 2050, implement a ten-year, US $150 billion clean energy plan and create five million 'green' jobs.

'Obama's green jobs strategy could deliver a 'quadruple win' - dealing simultaneously with the economic recession, energy security, job creation and emissions,' commented Achim Steiner, the Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme, in an interview with the Press Association.

The idea of a Green New Deal, which is advocated by the United Nations as a way out of the economic crisis, is increasingly gaining momentum. Several other leaders have also recently proposed green economic stimulus packages to help their economies out of the slump, including Asian powerhouses Japan and the Republic of Korea.

Barack Obama has continued to give strong signals on the environment since his election, appointing what is being hailed as an unprecedentedly green US Administration. Most notably, he created the post of Energy and Environment Coordinator for Carol Browner, who was head of the Environmental Protection Agency under former President Bill Clinton. As Obama's 'Climate Czar', Browner's job will be to coordinate the White House's work on climate change across all the different energy, climate and environment entities.

Other notable green appointments include Steven Chu as Secretary of Energy and John P. Holdren as his Science Adviser. Nobel Prize-winning physicist Steven Chu - who is one of the world's top researchers on alternative and renewable energy - was an early advocate for finding scientific solutions to climate change. John Holdren, a professor of environmental policy at Harvard University, has focused on the causes and consequences of climate change and advocates a strong and rapid global effort to address it.

'These are not political figures come to this issue yesterday, they are some of the most authoritative, competent and knowledgeable people,' Achim Steiner told the Press Association.

Barack Obama's green proposals have been welcomed by environmentalists around the world including Yvo de Boer, the Executive Director of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, which is leading the international climate negotiations: 'Obama indicated that he wants to show leadership both domestically and internationally. I feel that's a very important signal of encouragement for all of the countries in these negotiations. The lesson of Kyoto is that we clearly need to find a way forward that the United States is willing to commit to,' he said.

The new Obama Administration has a busy time ahead. Its tasks will include enrolling the support of Congress to cut US greenhouse gas emissions, while any new international post-2012 climate treaty will have to gain the approval of Senate.
But the new President takes office with the promise of new environmental leadership from the White House.

'When I am President, any governor who's willing to promote clean energy will have a partner in the White House,' he told governors at a climate change conference on 18 November. 'Any company that's willing to invest in clean energy will have an ally in Washington. And any nation that's willing to join the cause of combating climate change will have an ally in the United States of America.'

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