WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama on Wednesday vowed a new push for action on climate change, saying the United States had a duty to come together to curb emissions in the wake of megastorm Sandy.
In his first news conference since his decisive re-election on November 6, Obama said he planned a “conversation across the country” in the coming months to find common ground after a failed effort on climate change at the start of his term.
“I am a firm believer that climate change is real, that it is impacted by human behavior and carbon emissions. And as a consequence, I think we’ve got an obligation to future generations to do something about it,” Obama said.
Obama acknowledged that his stance on climate change would require an “education process” and “tough political choices” but insisted that his push was compatible with efforts to bring more jobs to the still-wobbly US economy.
If “we can shape an agenda that says we can create jobs, advance growth and make a serious dent in climate change and be an international leader, I think that’s something that the American people would support,” Obama said.
“You can expect that you’ll hear more from me in the coming months and years about how we can shape an agenda that garners bipartisan support and helps move this agenda forward,” he said.
After Obama’s first election, much of the rival Republican Party adamantly opposed proposals on climate change, saying they would hurt the economy.
Some lawmakers took issue with the view of most scientists that industrial emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are causing the planet to warm.
Climate change played little role in the election campaign until days before the vote, when massive storm Sandy tore through the East Coast and the Caribbean, killing more than 110 people in the United States alone.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, an independent, made a last-minute endorsement of Obama due to his stance on climate change. Obama’s Republican rival, Mitt Romney, had earlier mocked Obama for trying to “heal the planet.”
Obama declined to attribute Sandy to climate change, but noted that average temperatures were rising and Arctic ice was melting at rates that are even faster than predicted in recent years.
“There have been an extraordinarily large number of severe weather events here in North America, but also around the globe,” Obama said.
Obama’s top allies in Congress have backed calls on climate change.
Nancy Pelosi, the top Democrat in the House of Representatives, on Wednesday welcomed statements by Obama and called climate “a priority for me.”
With Democrats in control in 2009, the House approved the first nationwide “cap-and-trade” plan that, similar to a system in place in Europe and recently launched in California, would restrict carbon emissions and offer a market incentive for cuts.
But the plan died in the Senate, even with Democrats in charge.
Obama, who also vowed to fight climate change in his Election Day victory rally in Chicago, has not made clear his future initiatives.
After the defeat of cap-and-trade, the Obama administration used regulatory power to tighten standards for power plants and vehicles, leading the White House to insist that the United States is on track to meet its pledges to a UN body to cut emissions by 17 percent by 2020 from 2005 levels.
One proposal that has gained traction in think tank circles is to set an outright tax on carbon, which could also assist the United States find a solution in a politically charged dispute over its debt.
Mark Muro and Jonathan Rothwell of the Brookings Institution recently proposed a $20-per-ton tax on carbon emissions — slightly less than a tax recently adopted in Australia — that would raise an estimated $150 billion annually over 10 years.
Of the revenue, the government would invest $30 billion each year to green energy and development, with the rest going to tax cuts, deficit reduction and rebates to low-income people most affected by potentially higher energy bills.
While conventional wisdom has long held that new taxes would be political suicide in Washington, the conservative American Enterprise Institute held an event Tuesday on the idea and called for more discussion, with one speaker arguing that a carbon tax could reduce corporate taxes elsewhere.