Obama orders cuts to government's greenhouse gas emissions

President Barack Obama arrives on the South Lawn of the White House onboard Marine 1 March 18, 2015 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Pete Marovich-Pool/Getty)
President Barack Obama arrives on the South Lawn of the White House onboard Marine 1 March 18, 2015 in Washington, DC.

In his ongoing effort to combat climate change both at home and abroad, President Barack Obama signed an executive order on Thursday to reduce the federal government's greenhouse gas emissions by 40%.

Although the government contributes only a small percentage of total emissions, the cuts are expected to keep 26 million metric tons of greenhouse gases out of the air by 2025 -- equal to taking about 5.5 million cars off the road for a year. The order also directs the government, which is the single largest U.S. consumer of energy, to increase its use of renewable energy to 30% of its consumption, giving a further boost to green industries.

The executive order comes just days after an international team of scientists reported that the Totten Glacier of East Antarctica -- the largest and most rapidly thinning glacier in the region -- is shrinking because of warm ocean water developing beneath it. The process could have “global consequences,” including rising sea level by at least 11 feet, the researchers wrote Monday in Nature Geoscience.

On Thursday morning, Obama toured an installation of solar panels at the Energy Department's headquarters and discussed the new emissions targets with federal suppliers, part of a larger effort to lead by example on the climate change issue. In November, Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping reached an agreement on a climate deal to reduce carbon emissions and tackle the growing crisis of global climate change. The pact includes a first-ever commitment by the Asian country to stop its emissions from increasing entirely after 2030.  

INFOGRAPHIC: Visualizing CO2 emissions by country and state

Although the damaging impact of climate change is predicted to worsen in the coming century, its extreme effects are already being felt on every continent and across the world’s oceans, a United Nations assessment revealed last year. Just this week, federal records revealed that this winter and the first two months of 2015 were the hottest on record globally, despite the constant chill throughout the eastern United States. The combined January and February temperature for this year beat the previous record from 2002, while December through February broke the meteorological winter record set in 2007, according to NBC News.

The United Nations has warned that the global threat will increase if leaders don’t rein in the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. 

Last month, Obama vetoed a bill that would have approved the Keystone XL pipeline, a main piece of the Republican energy agenda. Stopping construction of the pipeline, which would bring heavy tar sands oil from Canada across the middle of the United Sates to a port on the Gulf of Mexico, became a top priority for environmentalists, who said the project would exacerbate climate change and create other pollution risks.

A major United Nations conference on climate change is scheduled to be held next year in Paris.