US President Barack Obama Monday vowed to lead the world on climate change as he set about shredding Bush administration policies with new domestic measures to force the development of fuel-efficient cars.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton meanwhile picked a veteran of the Kyoto Protocol talks as her envoy for climate change, as world leaders target a historic global warming pact this year.
“We will make it clear to the world that America is ready to lead,” Obama said, in an apparent swipe at former president George W. Bush’s reluctance to take control of international efforts to combat climate change.
“To protect our climate and our collective security, we must call together a truly global coalition,” the president said at a White House ceremony.
Obama signed memoranda aimed to prod the struggling US auto industry to design new fuel-efficient vehicles to lessen US dependence on energy sources which he said bankroll dictators, and to spur the US economy.
“The days of Washington dragging its heels are over,” Obama said.
“My administration will not deny facts — we will be guided by them,” Obama said, in an apparent dig at Bush aides accused of subverting science for ideological reasons.
Obama required the Environmental Protection Agency to reconsider whether to grant California a waiver to regulate car emissions blamed for contributing to global warming.
The Bush administration had blocked efforts by the vast western state and a dozen others to impose their own limits on carbon dioxide gas emissions.
California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger reacted with delight.
“With this announcement from President Obama less than a week into his administration, it is clear that California and the environment now have a strong ally in the White House,” he said in a statement.
Obama ordered the Transportation Department to produce guidelines to require US cars to reach average fuel efficiency of 35 miles per gallon by 2020.
There was a generally positive reaction from the “Big Three” auto giants, several of which are dependent on government cash to survive.
General Motors said it was “working aggressively on the products and the advance technologies that match the nation’s and consumers’ priorities to save energy and reduce emissions,” and was ready to work with Obama and Congress.
The 11 member Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which includes Ford and Chrysler said it was also ready to work with the administration.
While promising action at home, Obama also made clear he would ask for action from giant developing economies to do more to limit greenhouse gases.
“I’ve made it clear that we will act, but so too must the world.”
“That’s how we will deny leverage to dictators and dollars to terrorists, and that’s how we will ensure that nations like China and India are doing their part, just as we are now willing to do ours.”
Environmentalists praised Obama, after years battling the White House on climate change issues.
“It’s a terrific beginning,” David Yarnold, executive director of the Environmental Defense Fund told AFP.
“It fires the starting gun for millions of new jobs, and amplifying the stimulus package and welding it to environmental benefits — and it highlights how those issues are inseparable.”
Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope welcomed the California move.
“This action deserves the loudest applause, President Obama is making good on campaign promises and sending yet another signal that global warming and clean energy are top priorities for his administration.”
In another sharp break from Bush, Clinton picked Todd Stern as her envoy for climate change, a State Department official said.
Stern is a “former Clinton White House official with experience at Kyoto and Buenos Aires climate change negotiations,” the official told AFP on condition of anonymity.
Stern took part in the Kyoto Protocol negotiations from 1997 to 1999, before becoming an advisor to the secretary of the treasury from 1999 to 2001.
Bush rejected the Kyoto Protocol in 2001 dealing a blow to global climate change efforts, warning it would deal damage the US economy.
The Clinton administration agreed the Protocol but the pact was never ratified by the Senate.