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Obama stakes final 2 years on climate change

November 18, 2014

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama is elevating his efforts during his last two years in office to combat global warming above almost all else as he seeks to leave an imprint on the world that will endure after he’s gone. It’s a strategy rooted not only in Obama’s long-stated support for such efforts, but also in political reality.

Only two weeks ago, Obama watched his prospects for realizing his goals on education, wages and immigration all but evaporate as voters handed his party a stinging rebuke in the midterm elections, putting Republicans in full control of Congress for the remainder of his presidency. But on a trip last week to Asia and Australia, Obama sought — and found — fruitful opportunities to make a lasting difference on global warming.

In China, traditionally a U.S. adversary on environmental issues, Obama set an ambitious new target for cutting future U.S. emissions as part of a landmark deal in which China will also rein in pollution. In Australia, he pledged $3 billion to help poorer nations address changing temperatures while prodding Australia’s prime minister to stop questioning the science of climate change.

“We’re showing there’s no excuse for other nations not to come together,” Obama said in Brisbane, where he also pressed the issue with leaders of the world’s 20 largest economies.

The emphasis on climate isn’t all by choice.

Although Obama has long sought to rally action against climate change, White House aides say the issue has become even more attractive after the election because it’s one where Obama has considerable leverage to act without Congress. Foreign policy is largely the domain of presidents, and at home, Obama has aggressively used his regulatory power to curb greenhouse gas emissions over fierce objections from Republicans and the energy industry.

“President Obama has made no secret that his climate crusade will proceed irrespective of what the American people want or what other global leaders caution,” said Laura Sheehan of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, which represents the coal industry.

Sheehan said Australia, whose prime minister rose to power promising to gut a hated carbon tax, is a “prime example” of lessons that some have learned but Obama has ignored. She warned the deal with Beijing, which allows China’s emissions to keep increasing until 2030, will stall America’s economy while China’s continues to grow “thanks to affordable, reliable power.”

Climate change advocates said the deal with China is paving the way for a successful global climate treaty that nations are aiming to finalize next year, because it ups the pressure on reluctant, developing nations like India. They argue a successful treaty is the world’s best chance to avert the worst effects of global warming. Facing dim prospects for Senate ratification of a new treaty, the administration is considering strategies where the agreement could be labeled a voluntary expansion of a 1992 climate treaty, relying on joint political pressure to ensure countries comply with certain parts.

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