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Guardian (UK): Obama focuses on green economy in speech before Congress

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Guardian (UK): Obama focuses on green economy in speech before Congress

Wednesday 25 February 2009 03.54 GMT

• Barack Obama presses Capitol Hill on energy reforms
• Budget will include $15bn a year for alternative fuels

Barack Obama raised the development of a green economy to the top of America's agenda tonight, calling on Congress to pass a law cutting the carbon emissions that cause global warming.

The president, in a rousing speech to both houses of Congress, tried to put to rest fears that the economic recession would force him to scale back ambitious plans for energy reforms.

Instead, he made it clear that he sees a direct link between America's long-term economic interests and the development of clean energy, budgeting additional funds for research into wind and solar power.

The president also pressed Congress to push ahead on a new law to cut greenhouse gas emissions, defying critics who say cap-and-trade measures could be a brake on economic recovery.

"To truly transform our economy, protect our security and save our planet from the ravages of climate change, we need to ultimately make clean, renewable energy the profitable kind of energy," the president said. "So I ask this Congress to send me legislation that places a market-based cap on carbon pollution and drives the production of more renewable energy in America."

Barely a week after the passage of his $787bn economic rescue plan, Obama came back to Congress with plans for further green investment.

The recovery plan devoted more than $100bn to making private homes and government buildings more efficient, developing wind and solar power and spending money on public transport.

But the president promised even more tonight, saying his budget, which will be announced on Thursday, would allocate $15bn a year to develop wind and solar power and more fuel-efficient cars.

"We are committed to the goal of a re-tooled, re-imagined auto industry," he said. "The nation that invented the automobile cannot walk away from it."

Obama also set out a plan to modernise the electric grid.

He said America needed to re-establish its leading role in the development of solar and other renewable energy technologies, after losing ground to China, Germany and Japan.

"I do not accept a future where the jobs and industries of tomorrow take root beyond our borders – and I know you don't either. It is time for America to lead again,"

The direct appeal for climate change legislation could re-energise efforts to produce legislation before global climate change talks get underway in Copenhagen next December.

White House officials admitted on Monday it was increasingly uncertain such legislation could pass in time, and that the deadline might slip to 2010.

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Business Daily Africa (Kenya): Towns should be the driving force for a green economy

February 25, 2009

Written by Anna Tibaijuka   

Cities have become the driving force of global trade. They are the engines of economic productivity and cultural creativity. They serve as the nexus of global financial markets, and the service centres of our information society.

But cities are also generating the bulk of our waste and are witnessing some very worrisome trends in social deprivation and exclusion. As a result, some one billion people are living in slums and informal settlements today.

Besides suffering from poor health, poor nutrition and lack of access to education, they have become the unwitting contributors to pollution and deforestation.

Because they lack access to modern and affordable energy supply, many slum dwellers, especially in Africa, continue to rely on bio-mass as the principle source of energy.

Because they lack access to modern water supply and sanitation, they pollute our rivers and watersheds. Because they are poor, their behaviour is dictated by the necessities of short-term survival.

And, if current trends are allowed to continue, this figure is projected to reach two billion by 2030. Our  quest for more sustainable forms of social and economic development and environmental protection cannot be dissociated from a quest for sustainable urbanisation.

The concept of sustainable urbanisation represents a pragmatic approach to pursuing growth with due regard for the ecology, and wealth creation with equity.

Conventional wisdom tells us that the current financial crisis will inevitably have implications for the availability of public funds for social services and private capital to finance the much needed improvements in housing, basic infrastructure and services.

Enormous potential

Conventional wisdom also tells us that the global economic downturn will lead to fewer employment opportunities, affecting  foremost the developing countries and the poor.  

However, we can also choose to look at things less conventionally. The Chinese word for “crisis” is made up of two ideograms. One stands for danger; the other stands for opportunity.

The current crisis could also be seen as a clear opportunity to make our cities and urban centres into the driving force for a green economy.  Given the relatively low levels of energy consumption and of individual mobility, cities in developing countries offer enormous potential for investing in infrastructure and services that favour efficiency, green jobs and green technology.  

To achieve this, cities need to avoid replicating models that are no longer environmentally sound. Instead, they need to innovate, to think out of the box and leapfrog the prevailing paradigms by applying the principles of ecological sustainability in their efforts to attain the Millennium Development Goals.

The technologies are there. The solutions exist. They range from water harvesting to solar energy, and from affordable mass transit to bio-fuel production.

Mrs Tibaijuka is the Executive Director of UN-HABITAT.

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