A Carbon Tax? Don’t Expect One Anytime Soon, Obama Says

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By Dean Scott

Oct. 4 — A carbon tax on fossil fuels might be the single best approach to curbing global climate change—just don’t expect the U.S. or a broad swath of nations to impose one anytime soon, President Barack Obama said.

“Now, I’ll be honest with you. In the current environment in Congress, and certainly internationally, the likelihood of an immediate carbon tax is a ways away,” Obama said at a White House climate forum Oct. 3.

However, Obama did highlight what he said will likely be “tidbits of good news” in the weeks ahead from separate international negotiations to curb aviation sector carbon dioxide emissions as well as hydrofluorocarbons—extremely potent greenhouse gases commonly used in refrigeration.

Talks toward finalizing a cap on aviation emissions began this week under the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organization in Montreal; talks toward a global phasedown of HFCs are to be held Oct. 8-14 in Kigali, Rwanda under the auspices of the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer.

Though the outlook for a carbon tax in the U.S. is dim, that same day Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that country would set a national price on carbon dioxide emissions by 2018.

‘A Sense of Urgency’ Needed

Obama also took aim at what he said is a continuing obstacle to building on his climate agenda: “obstructionist” members of Congress whom he sees as stubbornly resisting the degree to which human activities are changing the climate. Progress requires “a sense of urgency” and not “something that we can just kind of mosey along about” in the face of “climate denial or obstructionist politics,” the president said at the climate panel discussion, which concluded a daylong South by South Lawn festival hosted at the White House.

The president also touted international progress on climate change under the 2015 Paris Agreement, which he noted is now on track to enter into force “in the next few weeks”—less than a year after nearly 200 nations reached the deal at a UN summit in December.

The South by South Lawn event was the first to be held at the White House, focusing on technology and civic engagement and inspired by the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas. Obama shared the stage with Katharine Hayhoe, a climate scientist at Texas Tech University, on a panel moderated by actor and climate activist Leonardo DiCaprio.

International Work ‘Incomplete.’

The Paris climate pact is expected to enter into force in the weeks ahead because of moves by India, which ratified the deal Oct. 2, and the European Union, which last week moved to fast-track its ratification to ensure the deal becomes international law before the next UN climate summit opens in Morocco Nov. 7.

But Obama conceded at the Oct. 3 forum that more action is needed.

“We get an incomplete,” the president said after he was asked by DiCaprio to grade the global response thus far to the challenge of addressing climate change. “But the good news is we can still pass the course if we make some good decisions now,” Obama said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Dean Scott in Washington at DScott@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com

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