Barack Obama speaks to reporters in Seward, Alaska, in September 2015 where he used the state’s glorious but changing landscape as an urgent call to action on climate change. Photograph: Andrew Harnik/AP

Tom Steyer calls on president to seize opportunity to explain his actions on the environment and convince Americans that they must be irrevocable...

Billionaire climate activist Tom Steyer pressed Barack Obama on Monday to go out with a bang and make global warming central to the message of his last State of the Union address.

In a conference call with reporters, Steyer said the speech on Tuesday offered one of the last high-visibility moments for Obama to make his case to the American public for a transformation of the US energy and climate system.

The last year was a banner year for climate change – with the Paris climate agreement, the rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline, an effective ban on Arctic drilling, and the finalisation of rules cutting carbon pollution from power plants, Steyer told the call.

“This is a great opportunity to make that case and make sure that the moves we made are decisive and irrevocable,” Steyer said. “He is obviously not going to get specific climate legislation through by the end of his administration … This is a chance for him to really address Americans and explain to them what he has been doing, why it still needs to be done, and why it is so important.”

On Monday, Steyer’s NextGen Climate teamed up with fellow activists Van Jones, founder of Green for All and briefly green jobs adviser for Obama; Mona Mangat, board chair of Doctors for America; and Michael Breen, chief executive of the Truman national security project, for the release of a new report casting climate change as a threat to national security and public welfare.

“To truly address poverty, we must address climate change once and for all. The economic burden of climate change will not be shouldered by all families equally,” the report Threat Multiplier: Climate Change and the State of Our Union, said.

The report extends the idea first embraced by the Pentagon nearly a decade ago that global warming deepened existing risks to the international order. (By 2014, the Pentagon had elevated climate change as an “immediate risk” to national security and its infrastructure).

It points out the public health risks posed by air pollution, water shortages and drought – all of which will be exacerbated by climate change, and notes the Pentagon’s concerns about national security.

“It is in America’s best national security interest to take action on climate change,” the report said, noting that the Syrian conflict and refugee crisis were fueled in part by drought and climate change.

Steyer has spent millions from his own fortune backing candidates with strong environmental records in an attempt to elevate the issue of climate change in elections – with mixed results.

The billionaire’s NextGen Climate group is pressing candidates to back his call for powering the country with more than 50% clean energy by 2030 – a far more ambitious target than Obama’s – and 100% clean energy by 2050.

Among potential presidential candidates in 2016, only the struggling Democratic contender, Martin O’Malley, matches Steyer’s level of ambition.

Monday 11 January 2016

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