WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama said he plans to work with Congress in his second term to curb human-aggravated climate change, but not at the expense of the U.S. economy.
“I am a firm believer that climate change is real, that it is impacted by human behavior, and carbon emissions,” Obama said at a televised news conference on Wednesday. “And as a consequence, I think we’ve got an obligation to future generations to do something about it.”
Without specifying what actions he would take, Obama said he would speak in the coming months and years to get bipartisan support for tackling the problem of rising global temperatures.
Obama pointed to his administration’s tightened fuel efficiency standards on cars and trucks and the increased use of renewable energy in the United States as moves that will limit the amount of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere.
In the next several weeks, he said, he plans “a wide-ranging conversation with scientists, engineers and elected officials to find out what ... more can we do to make short-term progress in reducing carbons.”
Noting that it is unclear now what Democrats or Republicans are prepared to do to ease the climate problem, and that regional differences complicate the situation, Obama said any serious solution would require “some tough political choices.”
“I think the American people right now have been so focused, and will continue to be focused, on our economy and jobs and growth that ... if the message is somehow, we’re going to ignore jobs and growth simply to address climate change, I don’t think anybody’s gonna go for that,” he said. “I won’t go for that.”
He said Americans would support “an agenda that says we can create jobs, advance growth and make a serious dent in climate change and be an international leader.”
The issue of climate change was largely absent from the presidential campaign, where Obama talked about an “all-of-the-above” energy strategy that includes fossil fuels such as coal, petroleum and natural gas - big emitters of greenhouse gases - in addition to renewables like solar and wind power.
Republican nominee Mitt Romney mocked Obama’s stance on climate change, telling his party’s convention in Tampa in August, “President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans and to heal the planet. My promise is to help you and your family.”
However, in the last days of the campaign, Obama picked up an endorsement from New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose city was battered by Hurricane Sandy. Bloomberg said he favored the Democratic president, in part, because Obama “sees climate change as an urgent problem that threatens our planet.”
After Obama’s news conference on Wednesday, Bloomberg issued a statement saying he will support Obama as the president seeks bipartisan ways to reduce carbon emissions.
“Whether or not Hurricane Sandy resulted from climate change, there is no doubt that the threat of increasingly intense storms should spur Washington to make the issue a top priority,” Bloomberg said.
Extreme storms like Sandy, along with more intense droughts, wildfires and floods, are projected by some as results of climate change, though climate scientists generally decline to attribute individual weather events to global warming.
So-called cap-and-trade legislation meant to limit U.S. carbon dioxide emissions died on Capitol Hill in 2010 and has not been re-introduced. But California launched its own state-wide, economy-wide cap-and-trade system on Wednesday, and climate change was a campaign issue in the New Hampshire governor’s race.
Other carbon-capping measures could be addressed through regulation, though the pro-industry Institute for Energy Research took a dim view of this.
“Because of the Obama administration’s regulatory agenda, Americans should expect to pay more at the pump, more for electricity, and more to heat their homes,” the institute said in a statement issued on November 7.
Deborah Zabarenko, Environment Correspondent, additional reporting By Patrick Rucker; Editing by Doina Chiacu and Karey Wutkowski