While it also raises assorted concerns, there is no doubt United States President Barack Obama's clean-power plan represents a historic moment in the fight against baneful carbon emissions. Hailed as the most determined action on climate change ever taken by a US president, it couldn't have come at a better time - ahead of the World Climate Summit in Paris at the end of the year to forge a deal that all nations will support. As the second-biggest carbon emitter after China, the US' leadership by example might spur the committed to take bolder steps and persuade the half-hearted to do more to save the planet. The response of others is crucial as the US accounts for less than 20 per cent of global emissions.
Admittedly, Mr Obama's plan might prompt the coal plants left standing to produce more energy to meet demand from areas forced to retire similar plants. That could lead to an increase in localised pollution. Some fear higher energy bills in the future, and his Republican opponents (particularly those in coal-producing states) have launched furious attacks on the plan, calling it "extremely burdensome and costly". But a large swathe of people, including scientists, environmentalists and hundreds of businesses, support the rules to cut emissions from power plants which account for nearly 40 per cent of US carbon dioxide emissions. Hitherto, there were no rules to keep their emissions in check.
As laudable as the power plan is, more work lies in store to tackle fuel economy standards for vehicles, emission cuts for plants and refineries, curbs on hydrofluorocarbons (used in fridges and air-conditioners), and methane leaks from oil and gas wells. Even if these rules are put in place, a long road lies ahead and targets might not be met after Mr Obama leaves office next year, particularly if his successor is not seized by a similar zeal for addressing climate change. That, of course, would be myopic as the planet is expected to be incrementally warmed by around 3 degrees by 2100 - in excess of the dreaded 2-degree threshold - even if all countries take their climate pledges seriously, as the International Energy Agency noted.
The effects of such warming will be decidedly devastating as freshwater sources start to dry up, crop yields dwindle, Arctic ice continues to melt, wildfires increase, hurricanes become wilder, and more plant and animal species face extinction. That is why more climate game changers, similar to President Obama's clean-power plan, will be badly needed to help avert dismal consequences. The grim reality is that even when brave efforts surface, these will be subject to countless attempts to cut the changes off at the knees. In the US, the power plan is being threatened with lawsuits and by repealing legislation down the road. The danger is by the time the scales fall from the eyes of naysayers, it might well be too late.