What the President's focus on climate change means for cleantech

In his second inaugural address Monday -- and in sharp contrast to his first -- President Obama focused more on climate change and energy technology than any other single policy area. This signals a new opportunity for sustainability and cleantech innovation.

But to ensure real progress, it’s critical that politicians and business leaders alike frame the issue effectively and emphasize priorities that are relevant to all Americans -- like competitiveness, innovation, and quality of life.

In Monday’s speech, the president already began framing the issue along these lines. First, while asserting that climate change is happening, he focused on the human consequences by mentioning “the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms” like Sandy.

Second, rather than push new climate legislation per se, he said our efforts will “power new jobs and new industries,” positioning America for success in the 21st century. In broadening the climate change frame, the president is attempting to disarm some critics who seemingly believe that any significant action on environmental topics represents job-killing environmental extremism.

The Obama administration is focusing on initiatives with broad economic and health benefits, not just environmental ones. According to the New York Times, strategies ranging from increasing appliance efficiency to further reducing emissions from power plants are all on the table. This strategy led to the adoption of a 54.5 miles-per-gallon CAFE standard by 2025 and EPA regulation of coal power plants.

Such executive action is not only a way to bypass a potentially deadlocked Congress occupied with other pressing matters like the federal budget. It’s also a way -- if the framing is done right -- to convince Congress that progress on the environment and progress on competitiveness, innovation and quality of life go hand-in-hand.

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