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A Climate Change To-Do List for the Next President

The stacks from the Gavin coal burning power plant tower over the landscape in
Cheshire, Ohio



The stacks from the Gavin coal burning power plant tower over the landscape in Cheshire, Ohio Photograph by Ben Lowy/Getty Images

In the 2008 campaign, both presidential candidates called for comprehensive action on climate change through a declining cap on carbon. This time around, the economy has taken center stage; while Barack Obama and Mitt Romney have presented different visions on energy policy, climate change has largely been relegated to the sidelines. Nonetheless, the magnitude and urgency of the challenge have not diminished. If we needed any reminder of that fact, Hurricane Sandy should have provided it—especially coming on the heels of devastating drought, record-breaking temperatures through the spring and summer, and a record low in the extent of Arctic sea ice.

What follows are four steps the next administration could take to address climate change—including ideas being discussed by elected officials, nongovernmental organizations, and think tanks on both sides of the aisle. The big-ticket items, such as a cap or tax on carbon, would require action by Congress. Beltway insiders may counter that congressional action on anything, let alone something as politically challenging as global warming, is implausible. There will be plenty of advice to think small. And indeed the dismal record of the last two years suggests the next administration should be prepared for more gridlock—which is why this list also includes more incremental steps, such as extending tax credits for renewable energy and using existing Environmental Protection Agency authority to regulate carbon pollution.