Swiss newspapers have welcomed US President Barack Obama’s plan to set steep greenhouse gas cuts to fight global warming. But they say it remains a “gamble”, as time is not on the president’s side and his plan could end up being dragged through the courts.
On Monday Obama unveiled what he called “the biggest, most important step we have ever taken” in tackling climate change. Under the Clean Power Planexternal link, published on Monday, US states will be required to work with electricity producers to reduce overall carbon emissions by 32% below 2005 levels by 2030.
In an editorial on Tuesday the Tages-Anzeiger newspaper in Zurich called the plan “exemplary”.
“The idea of gradually replacing coal-fired power stations by climate-friendly forms of energy is what scientists have been demanding for a long time. It is half the battle, because the burning of coal causes the most CO2 emissions,” it wrote. Coal-fired power plants currently provide more than a third of US electricity.
The ramped-up plan to cut emissions from power plants is slightly higher than the 30% cut envisaged under draft proposals last year.
“The new regulations will force the energy producers to invest more in solar and wind energy than in gas power plants, which no longer have a place in a post-fossil fuel society,” the paper wrote.
The Südostschweiz said Obama seemed “serious about protecting the climate”.
“This is positive for the whole world. It goes far beyond what environmentalists would have hoped for a year ago and underlines the urgency the president attaches to the issue,” it wrote.
Obama is enacting the plan by executive order, bypassing Congress, which rejected legislative attempts to reduce pollution from carbon dioxide.
“We’re the first generation to feel the impact of climate change. We’re the last generation that can do something about it,” Obama told an audience at the White House.
For many newspapers Obama seemed keen to want to cement his legacy with his climate change plan.
The French-language daily Le Temps said Obama’s climate “equation” had changed.
“At the start of his first term he preferred not to waste the popularity and energy he had built up on a difficult battlefront like climate change…but as he approaches the end of his presidential term Obama no longer runs the same risks and can allow himself to provoke his enemies,” it said.
The Neue Zürcher Zeitung said Obama’s climate change policy by executive order was an attempt to make the energy economy sustainable and show once again that he would like to change America and the rest of the world.
“For Obama in the penultimate year of his presidential term, it’s all about proving that despite the huge amount of disillusionment, failures, mistakes and great deal of unfinished business, his election slogan ‘Yes we can!’ still applies,” it said.
The Tribune de Genève echoed this. It said among the various issues Obama has been working on this summer – Cuba, Iran and climate change – his Clean Power Plan aims to “cement his vision of an America that is radically different from the one he inherited from George W. Bush”.
The Geneva paper said that while the ongoing Cuba dossier appeared “solid” to be able to withstand the “powerful opposing winds blowing in Congress”, the foundations of his climate change plan are more “fragile”.
Le Temps also warned that his climate plan was a “gamble”. The regulations face certain legal challenges from states and industries, and their long-term fate depends on their ability to withstand such challenges.
“The legal battle with his Republican enemies will be tough. And his last political manoeuvre has a major flaw…the president lacks one of the main ingredients of his success: time,” it declared in an editorial.
Opponents say Obama has declared “a war on coal”. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the new rules would shutter power plants and drive up electricity costs. “I will do everything I can to stop it,” he said.
White House officials hope the timing of their binding pollution regulations – the first ever US limit on carbon pollution from power plants – will help convince other big carbon-emitting countries to sign up to international targets at a major climate change conference in Paris this December.
“Obama has undoubtedly sent a strong signal on international climate policy,” the Tages-Anzeiger wrote. “There is now an opportunity at the climate conference in Paris that in addition to the EU and China big emerging nations like Brazil and India will agree to a new effective climate treaty.”