US President Barack Obama on Monday vowed to lead the world on climate change as he set about shredding Bush administration policies with new domestic measures to force the development of fuel-efficient cars.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton meanwhile picked a veteran of the Kyoto Protocol talks as her envoy for climate change, as world leaders target a historic global warming pact this year.
“We will make it clear to the world that America is ready to lead,” Obama said, in an apparent swipe at former US president George W. Bush’s reluctance to take control of international efforts to combat climate change.
“To protect our climate and our collective security, we must call together a truly global coalition,” Obama said at a White House ceremony.
Obama signed memorandums aimed to prod the struggling US auto industry to design new fuel-efficient vehicles to lessen US dependence on energy sources which he said bankroll dictators, and to spur the US economy.
“The days of Washington dragging its heels are over,” Obama said. “My administration will not deny facts — we will be guided by them.”
Obama required the US Environmental Protection Agency to reconsider whether to grant California a waiver to regulate car emissions blamed for contributing to global warming.
The Bush administration had blocked efforts by the vast western state and a dozen others to impose their own limits on carbon dioxide gas emissions.
California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger reacted to the announcement with delight.
“With this announcement from President Obama less than a week into his administration, it is clear that California and the environment now have a strong ally in the White House,” Schwarzenegger said in a statement.
Obama ordered the Transportation Department to produce guidelines to require US cars to reach average fuel efficiency of 35 miles per gallon (14.9km per liter) by 2020.
There was a generally positive reaction from the “Big Three” auto giants, several of which are dependent on government cash to survive.
General Motors said it was “working aggressively on the products and the advance technologies that match the nation’s and consumers’ priorities to save energy and reduce emissions,” and was ready to work with Obama and Congress.
The 11-member Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which includes Ford and Chrysler, said it was also ready to work with the administration.
In another sharp break from Bush, Clinton picked Todd Stern as her envoy for climate change, a State Department official said.
Stern is a “former Clinton White House official with experience at Kyoto and Buenos Aires climate change negotiations,” the official told reporters on condition of anonymity.
Stern took part in the Kyoto Protocol negotiations from 1997 to 1999, before becoming an advisor to the secretary of the treasury from 1999 to 2001.
Obama meanwhile told the Muslim world that “Americans are not your enemy” and renewed his pledge to travel to make an address in the capital of a major Muslim nation.
Obama said he had lived in Indonesia for several years while growing up, and said his travels through Muslim nations had convinced him that regardless of faith, people had certain common hopes and dreams.
“My job to the Muslim world is to communicate that the Americans are not your enemy — we sometimes make mistakes — we have not been perfect,” Obama said in an interview with the al-Arabiya satellite television network.