By Wanjohi Kabukuru
[Tudor Creek, Kenya] US President Barrack Obama is sauntering into retirement with his head held high when it comes to matters environment. President Obama has cemented his credentials as an eco-defender and established himself as an environmental icon. While he started his journey as an environmental defender much earlier, it is while still an Illinois state legislator that his impact has been seen more vividly.
In the last 24 months President Obama has distinguished himself by following his oratory wit with his writ in signature surpassing all of his predecessors on environmental conservation issues.
The journey to become one of the world’s leading environmental defenders began in 2014 when President Obama rolled out several ecologically friendly initiatives. These included, the Clean Power Plan aimed at cutting carbon pollution in the US, expanding the California Coastal National Monument, extending the boundaries of the Pacific Remote Island Marine National Monument to cover 490,000 square miles. The Clean Power Plan laid the groundwork for the US-China agreement on cutting carbon emissions.
President Obama saunters into retirement with his environmental credentials intact [CC-IOO]
January 2015 he set out by declaring "No challenge poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change," during his State of the Union message.
He didn’t stop there. Behind the scenes he rolled out the US diplomatic corps to work with their French counterparts and the Holy See to lobby the world for the historic Paris Agreement.
He followed his state of the union message with a commencement address in May 2015 at the US Coast Guard Academy, Obama noted that climate change was a direct threat to the US military.
His climate change message would shortly afterwards get a major boost when charismatic Pope Francis issued his long awaited environmental encyclical Laudato Si in June 2015 setting the stage for a global climate change pact in the Paris Agreement signed in Paris, France.
In November 2015 and President Obama continued in his environmental defence streak when he rejected the construction of the 1179miles Keystone XL Pipeline from Canada to the Texas coast.
It is easy to understand why President Obama took this environmental route.
Looking back it is clear that environmental diplomacy dipped in 2009 when the UN climate change conference collapsed in Copenhagen as the developed nations stuck on their hardline positions. Heavily criticised and largely painted as selfish the leaders of Annex 1 countries (developed nations) had to rethink their positions. The same criticism of insensitivity was leveled against the UN for failing to provide the moral armament to protect the planet.
After much haggling with no end in sight President Obama found a new ally in the Catholic head, Pope Francis. Debates and counter arguments based on science had hit a brick wall after two decades of environmental negotiations. Environmental apathy was becoming a norm.
It was time for an impassioned moral plea and political lobbying in the battle to win hearts, souls and minds of hitherto unwavering climate scientists and legions of like-minded civil societies. President Obama and the Pontiff were the two men tasked with getting Chinese President Xi Jinping and India’s Narendra Modi to agree on a global agreement to reduce greenhouse gases. In the year 2015 in the run-up to Paris the two charismatic leaders made groundbreaking pronouncements on climate change.
The Pope’s influence in Latin, South America, Carribean and the Pacific nations helped pacify hardened positions. On the other hand Obama and French President Francois Hollande leaned over the EU and made trips to influential anchor states such as India, Philipines and China. With Asia Pacific nations convinced the other blocks to be won over were the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) together with LDCs.
Having roped in all these nations Obama made sure he attended COP21 opening ceremony together with Jinping and Modi. During the succeeding negotiations US Secretary of State John Kerry was tasked to lead the US negotiating team. These in place the Paris Agreement was passed and ratified in record time.
President Obama has effectively used his executive powers to protect more ocean space than any other US President [Image: IOO]
After the passing of the Paris Agreement, Obama strategically waited for the IUCN’s World Conservation Congress biennial congress to troop to his native Hawaii to declare that Papahanumokuekea Marine Monument deep in the Pacific Ocean as the largest marine park in the world. He later waited for another strategic meeting “Our Oceans” conference in Washington DC to create the first marine monument the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument in the Atlantic Ocean this up with another huge marine reserve in the Atlantic Ocean.
These are just some of the key highlights that showcase President Obama’s environmental legacy. Rare attributes that set him apart as a man of convictions and who used his Executive powers to propound the ideals of environmental conservation.