US President Barack Obama has launched the country’s first national climate action plan and announced new rules to cut carbon emissions from power plants in the country.

During his speech at Georgetown University in Washington, Obama also promised to take other domestic actions, including support for renewable energy, and indicated he would block construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada if it contributed to climate change.

In his speech, Obama said: "We limit the amount of toxic chemicals like mercury and sulfur and arsenic in our air or our water, but power plants can still dump unlimited amounts of carbon pollution into the air for free.

"That’s not right. That’s not safe. And it needs to stop."

According to Obama, Washington will show the rest of the world a new approach to fight climate change.

Most of the US’s power plants burn coal, accounting for about one-third of US greenhouse gas emissions.

The president, who reiterated his promise to reduce US greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 17% below 2005 levels by 2020, has ordered the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to create and finalise new emissions rules for existing power plants by June 2015.

Obama is also considering increasing funding for clean energy research by 30% to $7.9bn and making $8bn in federal loan guarantees available to projects that could help stop carbon dioxide emission at power plants.

Most of the US’s power plants burn coal, accounting for about one-third of US greenhouse gas emissions.

The president’s speech has attracted criticism from the coal industry, which is expected to be affected significantly by carbon limits.

Commenting on Obama’s climate plan, American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity president Mike Duncan said: "If the Obama administration fails to recognise the environmental progress the industry has made and continues to adopt more regulations, coal power could cease to exist, which would be devastating for our economy."

But UK Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Edward Davey welcomed the climate change plan.

He said: "President Obama is right when he says tackling climate change is a moral obligation and also right when he says cutting carbon pollution will help spark business innovation and create jobs."

Davey added: "We will also keep up the pressure elsewhere, including in Europe. The EU should adopt a 50% emissions reduction target by 2030 in order to help secure a global deal in 2015."

Image: US President Barack Obama. Photo: Courtesy of Center for American Progress Action Fund.