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Al Gore urges action on stimulus plan's environmental provisions

Guardian Environment 28th January 2009

Al Gore reprised his role as environmental prophet today, laying out a road map for Barack Obama to push through his ambitious green agenda and re-assert American leadership on global climate change negotiations.

The former US vice-president and Nobel prize laureate called for swift passage of Obama's economic recovery plan, with its emphasis on green jobs and renewable energy.

He said Barack Obama's multibillion-dollar stimulus plan was a first step to moving America away from fossil fuels and reaching an international treaty on climate change in Copenhagen later this year.

"The road to Copenhagen has three steps to it," Gore told the Senate foreign relations committee.

Gore urged Congress not to be distracted by the economic recessions. Recent opinion polls have also shown a decline in concern about the environment as economic worries take hold.
Gore said the plan would spur economic recovery - not stand in its way.

"The solutions to the climate crisis are the very same solutions that will address our economic and national security crises as well," he said. "The plan's unprecedented and critical investments in four key areas - energy efficiency, renewables, a unified national energy grid and the move to clean cars - represent an important down payment."

He went on to call for "decisive action" towards mandatory limits on greenhouse gas emissions, saying the reductions achieved under the short-term economic recovery plan would make it easier for America to meet subsequent targets.

The knock-on effect would lay the foundation to a successful negotiation of a sequel to the Kyoto agreements later this year, Gore said.

"The United States will regain its credibility and enter the Copenhagen treaty talks with a renewed authority to lead the world in shaping a fair and effective treaty."

He said the scientific consensus of recent years would ensure support in Congress for an international treaty. Congress refused to ratify the Kyoto protocol a decade ago.

"The scientists are practically screaming from the rooftops," Gore said.

The largely reverential reception for Gore, from Republicans as well as Democrats on the Senate committee, was further evidence of the dramatic shift in thinking on the environment.

With Obama in the White House and Democrats in control of Congress, there is now broad support for dealing with climate change.

John Kerry, the incoming chairman of the Senate foreign relations committee, has said he intends to use his new role to help further efforts for an international treaty on climate. "The committee is going to be relentless and super-focused," he said.

"As the new administration sets a new tone with the global community, this issue will be an early test of our capacity to exert thoughtful, forceful diplomatic and moral leadership on any future challenge that the world faces," Kerry said.

With Bush's exit from the White House, there was little sign today of the once formidable constituency of climate change deniers. Instead, the committee room was reduced to respectful silence as Gore deployed his now famous slide show on the urgency of dealing with climate change.

He included data showing that if emissions rise at current levels, the earth could see an 11 degree Fahrenheit rise in global average temperatures.

"This would bring a screeching halt to human civilisation and threaten the fabric of life everywhere on Earth," Gore said. "And this is within the century, if we don't change."

Obama took his first steps to make good on an election promise to put the environment at the top of his agenda on Monday.

In a pair of executive orders, Obama asked the Environmental Protection Agency to review its refusal to allow California and more than a dozen other states to enact stringent emission requirements.

Gore's testimony was part of a broader strategy by Obama to get Congress behind his stimulus package, but also to line up support further down the road for legislation to promote clean energy and counter the effects of climate change.

Since the success of his film An Inconvenient Truth, Gore has launched a public campaign for America to stop using fossil fuels entirely and move to clean energy sources within 10 years. Such targets are more ambitious than those set by Obama.

However, Gore did not refer to those targets today.

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