Obama ‘surprised’ climate didn’t surface at the presidential debates

President Obama said Friday that he presents a “huge contrast” with Mitt Romney on climate change, and noted he is “surprised” the topic didn’t surface in three debates with the GOP nominee.

“We are not moving as fast as we need to, and this is an issue that future generations, MTV viewers, are going to have to be dealing with, even more than the older generation is,” Obama said in an interview on MTV Friday afternoon.

“And so this is a critical issue. And there is a huge contrast in this campaign between myself and Governor Romney. I am surprised it didn’t come up in one of the debates,” the president said.

However, while there were no questions on the topic, Obama never raised it himself during the debates despite engaging in several exchanges with Romney over energy policy.

The silence in the debates disappointed many environmentalists, who wanted a more muscular stance from Obama.

CNN’s Candy Crowley said after moderating the Oct. 16 debate that she had a question ready but didn’t get to it.

Bob Scheiffer of CBS, who moderated the final debate Monday, similarly told Politico that he had questions on climate and other topics but “obviously there are only so many you can get to.”

Obama used the Friday MTV interview to knock the views of Romney and other Republicans on climate science.

“Governor Romney says he believes in climate change. That is different than a lot of the members of his own party who just deny it completely,” Obama said. “But he says he is not sure that man-made causes are the reason.”

“I believe scientists, who say that we are putting too much carbon emissions into the atmosphere and it is heating the planet and it is going to have a severe effect,” Obama said.

Climate policy has been tough sledding at times for Obama. Major climate change legislation fizzled on Capitol Hill in 2010, and Congress didn’t touch his proposal for a nationwide “clean” electricity standard.

On MTV he touted the climate change benefits of his administration’s big increases in auto mileage standards, and also highlighted rising generation of renewable electricity, a sector that has benefitted from substantial funding through the stimulus and other programs.

“The next step is to deal with buildings and really ramp up our efficiency in buildings,” Obama said, noting that if the U.S. had the same energy efficiency as Japan, the U.S. would cut energy use by about 20 percent.

He said such efforts are a recipe for progress, but that much remains to be done.

“If we do those things we can meet the targets that I negotiated with other countries in Copenhagen to bring our carbon emissions down by about 17 percent even, as we are creating good jobs in these industries,” Obama said Friday.

The U.S., at the fractious United Nations climate change conference in Copenhagen, Denmark in 2009, pledged to cut its emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020.

“In order for us to solve the whole problem though, we are going to have to have some technological breakthroughs, because countries like China and India, they are building coal-fired power plants, they feel that they have to prioritize getting people out of poverty ahead of climate change, so what we have to do is help them, and help ourselves by continuing to put money into research and technology about how do we really get the new sources of power that are going to make a difference,” Obama said.

While Obama has mentioned climate change in a number of stump speeches, Friday’s comments represent his most expansive remarks on the topic in recent memory.

But Obama did not discuss specifics of a second-term agenda. Green groups are pushing for a number of steps including establishment of carbon emissions standards for existing power plants.

Romney, meanwhile, opposes emissions-capping legislation, and has called for stripping the Environmental Protection Agency’s power to regulate greenhouse gases.