Climate Treaty Hinges on Obama — Speaking Out, Former Aides Say

Photograph by Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

President Barack Obama tours the Copper Mountain Solar Project, the largest photovoltaic plant operating in the country, on March 21, 2012 in Boulder City, Nevada.

Written with Alex Morales

One of the biggest things President Barack Obama can do to fight global warming is to talk about it.

That’s the conclusion of at least seven former presidential aides and advisers serving in three administrations. Their comments came as envoys from more than 190 countries at a United Nations conference in Doha took steps toward completing a treaty by 2015 that would limit fossil fuel emissions starting in 2020.

While Obama is succeeding in shaping the international response to the issue, he hasn’t said enough about it at home, said the officials, led by John Podesta, who oversaw Obama’s transition into office four years ago. Obama’s reticence may make it more difficult to persuade Congress and the public to favor an international deal toward the end of his second term.

“The president really has to start talking about climate change again,” Podesta said in an interview in Washington. “He  as to engage a national conversation, not just one White House meeting, but a big conversation.”

Obama’s re-election and what it means for global-warming policy was the biggest question at the UN talks, which concluded in Doha on Dec. 8. Ministers agreed to streamline their negotiations, focusing on the 2015 goal and reviving the push for a treaty that failed in 2009 in Copenhagen. They also renewed pollution limits under the Kyoto Protocol.

The U.S. joined in backing the consensus at the meeting, signaling its willingness to work toward a treaty that would bind all nations into mandatory cuts for fossil fuel emissions.

Obama can’t win Senate support for a treaty without making a public argument for it now, said Christine Todd Whitman, who was head of the Environmental Protection Agency from 2001 to 2003 under former President George W. Bush.

“That’s the only way it’s going to move forward, if Obama takes the lead and lays out to the American people the economic liability of not preparing for climate change,” Whitman said in an interview.

Rep. Edward Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat who co-authored economy-wide “cap-and-trade” legislation passed by the House in 2009, agrees.

“President Obama needs to talk about climate change and help the American public connect the dots between extreme weather, climate change, our energy policy and the progress we are already making on reducing emissions,” Markey said in an e-mailed response to questions. “The public will be more accepting of an international climate deal if they understand what we are already doing” to fight global warming.

See the full climate treaty report at

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