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President Obama followed up his forceful call for climate action at his second inaugural address with a State of the Union message to Congress that if they fail to act, he will.

“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. 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.”

The pledge to take executive action is an acknowledgement that the votes aren’t there right now for comprehensive climate legislation, given that many congressional Republicans deny the consensus of 97 percent of scientists that human activity is causing climate change and are against regulating greenhouse gas emissions.

A recent analysis by the World Resources Insitute (WRI) reports that the United States is not on track to reach the international commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) by 17 percent by 2020 (below 2005 levels). The GHG emissions pledge was made at the 2009 United Nations climate negotiations. The WRI analysis recommends the following executive actions to achieve the 17 percent emissions reduction target:

— Reduce carbon emissions from existing power plants and natural gas systems through the EPA’s authority under the Clean Air Act.

— Phase out hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) through the Montreal Protocol process and the authority under the Clean Air Act.

— Work with states and localities to increase energy efficiency, generate more renewable energy, and build more low-carbon alternative transportation.

President Obama also plans to take his climate action message to the people. Following Tuesday night’s State of the Union speech, the president addressed supporters around the country on a conference call through the administration’s new grassroots advocacy group, Organizing for Action.

One issue the president didn’t mention was whether he will reject the controversial Keystone XL pipeline in the coming months.

On February 17, thousands of climate activists will descend upon Washington to call for the president to reject the pipeline and take immediate action on climate change. The Forward on Climate Rally is being billed by organizers as the biggest climate change rally in history.

Photo credit: AP

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