Tuesday’s announcement of Barack Obama’s clean-power plan has been billed as the strongest action ever on climate change by a US president.

The regulations are designed to cut emissions from power plants and contribute to a cleaner, greener economy. But what does this action by the world’s second-biggest carbon polluter, after China, mean for Australia?

What is the US’ new plan? 

President Barack Obama announced that US coal-fired power stations will be regulated to restrict their carbon pollution. The announcement came as a bit of a surprise to many people, given all the talk about climate change and targets for this and that, that the most polluting sector of the US economy has been unregulated until now. This didn’t come overnight; Obama signalled his intention to act on climate change a while ago, but the actual plan of how to get there has taken many months.

Why do we in Australia care what happens in the US?

The US is a leader on the global stage of climate politics. What happens in the US and other major economies sets standards that have flow-on effects for other countries. In the past, other countries have used the biggest economies, the US and China, not acting as an excuse for not taking any action of their own. Now both the US and China are moving forward.

Does this have anything to do with global climate negotiations?

This announcement means the US has thrown down the gauntlet to the other major climate polluting countries that they need to make major changes to how they regulate pollution at home to be able to reach their collective agreed target. More than 190 countries involved in the international climate negotiations agreed to work together to keep global average temperature below 2 degrees of warming to avoid dangerous climate change.

Is the Australian government doing anything about this?

The Abbott government is rumoured to be about to release its initial target next week for how it proposes to bring down climate pollution in line with other countries over the coming years.

Does it really matter to Australians?

Not only is Australia one of the places that will be hit most by climate change, we also happen to have a greater share of the solutions. Poll after poll shows that the great majority of Australians want energy supplied by wind and solar — something we have in abundance — seeing this as an opportunity to create jobs and investment. Stay tuned for The Climate Institute’s latest polling, to be released next Monday.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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