U.S. President Barack Obama has called his landmark plan to tackle greenhouse gases from U.S. coal-fired power plants “the single most important step America has ever taken in the fight against global climate change.”
Announcing the first-ever limits on U.S. power plant emissions on August 3, Obama called climate change one of the most pressing challenges of our time.
"No challenge poses a greater threat to our future and future generations than a change in climate," Obama said, adding that "there is such a thing as being too late."
The new regulations require cuts in carbon emissions from the U.S. power sector, demanding that they be reduced 32 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.
Industry groups and elected officials from states that rely on coal-based energy have vowed to fight the new regulations in court.
Obama’s announcement of his administration’s revised Clean Power Plan comes ahead of a key UN climate change summit in Paris in December to hash out measures aimed at limiting the rise in global temperatures to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit).
Addressing scientists in the audience at the White House that he described as “some of the best in the world,” Obama said: “What you and your colleagues have been showing us for years now is that human activities are changing the climate in dangerous ways.”
He invoked record annual temperatures this century, melting arctic ice, and longer wildfire seasons as examples of cumulative evidence of these dangers.
“Climate change is no longer just about the future that we’re predicting for our children or our grandchildren,” he said. It’s about the reality that we’re living with every day.”
He warned that the world may be unable reverse global warming if it is not aggressively confronted.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who is set to meet with Obama on August 4 in Washington, praised the U.S. president’s plan, calling such "visionary leadership" crucial in the run-up to Paris summit.
"This plan shows the United States’ determination to address global warming while also saving money and growing economy," Ban's spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, told reporters on August 3.
"It also recognizes the obligation we all have to leave future generations a planet which provides opportunities for sustainable development," he added.
The European Union, meanwhile, welcomed Obama clean power plan as “genuine” effort to cut carbon emissions.
Critics of the plan, however, say it will lead to job losses, a less reliable power grid, and increased energy costs for consumers that will disproportionately impact lower-income Americans.
The American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, an industry lobby group, accused the Obama administration of “pursuing an illegal plan that will drive up electricity costs and put people out of work.”
Obama rejected criticism that his plan would lead to higher energy bills for Americans, hurt the poor, and lead to job losses.
"This is the right thing to do," he said.
Coal accounted for 39 percent of electricity in the United States in 2014, according to data from the U.S. Department of Energy.
The new rules seek to reduce that to 27 percent by 2030 and increase the share of renewable energy sources like wind and solar to 28 percent of U.S. electricity generation by that year.
Natural gas has a 30-percent share of U.S. electricity generation, while nuclear power provides some 20 percent of the nation’s electricity.
U.S. presidential candidates have already weighed in on the announced regulations.
Republican candidate Jeb Bush called echoed criticism by industry groups, saying on August 2 that the plan "will throw countless people out of work, and increases everyone's energy prices."
Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, expressed support for the plan, calling it a "significant step forward in meeting the urgent threat of climate change."
"And it drives investments in clean energy and energy efficiency, reduces asthma attacks and premature deaths, and promotes a healthier environment and a stronger economy," Clinton said.