Last Tuesday, President Barack Obama laid out his administration’s long-awaited plan to escalate domestic and international efforts to address climate change. It highlighted the need to cut carbon pollution, prepare the United States to adapt to existing impacts of climate change, and lead international efforts. The plan sets out to foster cooperative efforts between developed nations and support developing nations to ensure their development proceeds in a sustainable fashion.
The focus of Obama’s plan is primarily domestic, acknowledging a responsibility to reduce the United States’ environmental impact and to enable Americans to adapt to climate change and natural disasters, such as Hurricane Sandy. However, it fails to mention our responsibility to alleviate the effects of our impact, in particular through global adaptation efforts. Addressing climate change is not merely mitigation, but adaption, and as a global leader, our responsibility expands beyond American citizens. In acknowledging our impact, we must leave no one behind, and support those for whom the threats of climate change are an immediate reality.
While Obama’s plan is intended to be a considerable step in enhancing United States leadership in international efforts to address climate change, it is only the beginning. We must ensure that these words translate into action, which will require political will, in particular from Congress, the engagement of the private sector, and diplomatic efforts to encourage and support other nations in mitigating and adapting to climate change. Obama’s speech arrives as governments, civil society, and academia globally have already begun engaging in a complex political process to design the United Nations’ Post-2015 development agenda, providing the United States a timely opportunity to demonstrate leadership in international efforts to address climate change.
As Obama strives to position the United States as a leader in these international efforts, he must expand his plan of to include the economic and social components of sustainability, and to position human development within the context of sustainable development. Climate change presents a major impediment to eradicating poverty and hunger, increasing access to healthcare and education, and promoting peace, security, and stability. Additionally, Obama’s vision fails to address population dynamics. We must invest in people, not merely energy, technology, and infrastructure. We must invest in women and girls’ education, economic opportunities, and sexual and reproductive health and rights, and we must ensure that youth and adolescents have access to secondary education, training and vocational skills, and decent employment, to empower individuals, households, communities, and governments to develop sustainably and to adapt to the existing impacts of climate change.
While Obama’s Climate Action Plan is a momentous step for domestic and global efforts to address climate change, it is just that, a step. There is a need for not only sound implementation of the plan, but for a rapid escalation of efforts to address climate change. While it is crucial for the United States to curb its unsustainable practices, and mitigate its impact on the environment, we must also look beyond energy and consumption, and ensure that current and future generations will have the resources and capability to develop sustainably, and respond to climate change.