President Obama is visiting Australia this week, forcing him to address an issue he's mostly avoided for the past year: cap and trade.
While the market-based emissions policy is widely considered dead
in D.C., at least for now, Australia's Senate recently passed its own pricing and trading plan
to reduce industrial carbon dioxide emissions. Obama advocated cap and trade for the U.S. back when it still seemed viable in Congress, but he's been mostly quiet about it — and about climate change in general — ever since the 2010 midterm elections.
During a joint press conference Wednesday with Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, however, Obama reiterated his support for using market forces to rein in carbon emissions, and even argued that doing so is good for the economy as a whole.
"[A]s we move forward over the next several years, my hope is, is that the United States, as one of several countries with a big carbon footprint, can find further ways to reduce our carbon emissions," Obama told reporters in Canberra, according to a White House transcript
. "I think that's good for the world. I actually think, over the long term, it's good for our economies as well, because it's my strong belief that industries, utilities, individual consumers — we're all going to have to adapt how we use energy and how we think about carbon."
Obama hasn't said much about global warming in the last 12 months, but he's not addressing it now just because of Australia's tax on carbon pollution. The U.N. will hold its next major climate summit
later this month in Durban, South Africa, and while it isn't expected to produce a binding multilateral treaty, it does offer a venue for developed nations like the U.S. and Australia to cajole more compromises from developing nations, namely China and India.
"So part of our insistence when we are in multilateral forum — and I will continue to insist on this when we go to Durban — is that if we are taking a series of steps, then it's important that emerging economies like China and India are also part of the bargain," Obama said. "That doesn't mean that they have to do exactly what we do. We understand that in terms of per capita carbon emissions, they've got a long way to go before they catch up to us. But it does mean that they've got to take seriously their responsibilities as well."
Of course, Australia can now make a stronger case to China and India than the U.S. can, having passed a plan to curb its own CO2 emissions. The Obama administration, meanwhile, has scrapped its efforts to push a climate bill through Congress, and is now mulling plans for the EPA to regulate CO2 emissions
via the Clean Air Act. During Wednesday's news conference, Obama admitted the volatile global economy will make climate talks a "tough slog," but praised Australia's "bold strategy" as a step in the right direction — both for the global economy and the global climate.
"I share the view of your prime minister and most scientists in the world that climate change is a real problem and that human activity is contributing to it, and that we all have a responsibility to find ways to reduce our carbon emissions," Obama said.