With five of Barack Obama’s eight years in office nearly complete, the president’s environmental legacy is beginning to take shape. Obama and his administration have not shied away from confronting important and controversial environmental issues, and they have many achievements to show for it. This blog post will focus on some of Obama’s most important environmental accomplishments. In an upcoming post we will discuss the most notable failures of his environmental policy.
Many of Obama’s policies on climate change, perhaps the most important environmental issue he faces, have been markedly bold and successful. In 2009, Obama convened the Interagency Climate Change Adaptation Task Force, and gave it the task of drawing up recommendations on how the federal government could best mitigate and prepare for the affects of climate change. This brought clarity to his administration’s climate change policy and provided the groundwork for much of the success that followed. In the same year, Obama signed executive order 13514, which required federal agencies to make “reduction of greenhouse gases a priority”, and established an array of ambitious efficiency targets for them to meet.
Further notable climate change action included establishing fuel standards for cars and trucks and collaboration with local governments to promote climate change adaptation and resiliency.
Many scholars point to U.S. CO2 emissions as proof of the success of these actions. Between 2007 and 2013, U.S. CO2 emissions dropped 12-13%. This drop, in the most important greenhouse gas, is the most of any OECD country during that same time period and represents real progress. This reduction can be accounted for in part by the slowing of the U.S. economy after the 2008 financial crash. However, the fact that CO2 emissions did not return to their previous levels as the economy recovered is evidence of a lasting transformation.
The Obama administration has also focused much of their environmental efforts on developing the U.S.’s renewable energy output. Obama and his team have successfully helped the country increase its use of solar, wind, and biofuels over the last decade. Their policies have included the expansion of renewable energy production on federal lands and the signing of an executive order mandating that the federal government triple its use of renewable energy by 2020.
While there are many other environmental issues that have been addressed by the Obama administration successfully, the issues of climate change and renewable energy output have been at the forefront of their policy agenda. Despite heavy political opposition, the current administration has been able to achieve much in these areas. Obama’s recent public dialogue and aggressive use of executive orders suggestions that the next three years may see an acceleration of action on climate change, renewable energy, and other key environmental issues.