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Washington (AFP) Feb 12, 2013
US President Barack Obama on Tuesday told divided lawmakers he will act on climate change even if they do not, vowing to set ambitious long-term goals such as ending the car's dependence on oil.
Obama pledged to promote wind, solar and cleaner natural gas energy in the world's largest economy and called for the United States to cut the energy wasted by homes and businesses by half over the next 20 years.
In his annual State of the Union address to Congress, Obama rebutted head-on the many climate skeptics in the rival Republican Party by noting that 12 of the world's hottest years on record took place in the past 15 years.
"We can choose to believe that superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence," Obama said.
"Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science -- and act before it's too late," he said to a mixture of applause from Democrats and silence from some Republicans.
Obama promised that he would keep allowing new oil projects. But he proposed using oil and gas revenues to set up an "Energy Security Trust" that would conduct research to shift all cars and trucks off oil in the long term.
Obama pointed out that Republican Senator John McCain, a frequent critic of the administration, in 2003 introduced with then senator Joe Lieberman a failed proposal to restrict greenhouse gas emissions blamed for climate change.
"I urge this Congress to pursue a bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change, like the one John McCain and Joe Lieberman worked on together a few years ago," Obama said.
"But if Congress won't act soon to protect future generations, I will.
"I will direct my Cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy," Obama said.
The "Climate Stewardship Act" by McCain and Lieberman would have capped greenhouse gas emissions at 2000 levels and set up a market to give businesses an incentive to become more environmentally friendly.
The proposal, which was reintroduced in 2005 and 2007, was defeated. A more ambitious bill led by Obama's Democratic Party to reduce emissions passed the House of Representatives in 2009 but died in the Senate.
Obama has since relied on executive power to fight climate change, with the Environmental Protection Agency ordering stricter standards for power plants which form the single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions.
As Obama was speaking, Republican leaders released statements urging Obama to approve the Keystone pipeline from Canada, arguing that it would create jobs. The pipeline is strongly opposed by environmentalists as the oil from tar sands is heavy in carbon emissions.
Environmentalists, seeing a new opportunity in Obama's renewed focus on climate change, plan what they hope will be a major rally in Washington on Sunday to press for action.
US climate scientists say that even if the world meets current goals on emissions, the planet is still poised for potentially catastrophic warming. Obama has set a goal of cutting emissions by 17 percent by 2020 from 2005 levels.
Andrew Steer, president of the World Resources Institute, said that by meeting its target, the United States "can signal that it's serious about tackling climate change at home while enhancing its credibility on the global stage."
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