President Barack Obama today put solar at the forefront of a national strategy to cut carbon emissions in the United States as part of a "coordinated assault on a changing climate".

The US president's two-step climate action plan, launched at Georgetown University in Washington DC, includes regulatory efforts to curb emissions from fossil fuel power stations and to increase the use of clean energy.

"This plan begins with cutting carbon pollution by changing the way we use energy, using less dirty energy, using more clean energy wasting less energy throughout our economy," said Obama.

"Today, about 40% of America's carbon pollution comes from power plants. But there are no federal limits to the amount of carbon pollution those plants can pump into our air… for free. That's not right, that's not safe and it needs to stop."

Obama said he would direct the Environmental Protection Agency to complete new pollution standards for both new and existing power plants "for the sake of our children and the health and safety of all Americans".

"The idea of setting higher pollution standards is not new," he said. "It's just time for Washington to catch up with the rest of the country."

President Obama also set a goal to double renewable electricity generation by 2020. Obama has directed the Department of the Interior to permit an additional 10GW of renewables on public lands by 2020 after the department last year achieved its original goal of 10GW in permits issued by the end of 2012.

The Department of Defence – the single largest consumer of energy in the United States – has also committed to the deployment of 3GW of renewable energy at military installations, including solar, by 2025. In addition, federal agencies are setting a new goal of reaching 100MW of installed renewable capacity across federally subsidised housing stock by 2020.

Obama also said that he would require all federal buildings to get 20% of their electricity supply from renewables.

"Today I'm setting a new goal," he said. "Your federal government will consume 20% of its electricity from renewable resources within the next seven years."

Obama said that he would also direct the administration to work with other countries on free trade agreements for environmental services, including clean energy.

"[This will] help more countries skip past the dirty phase of development and join a global low carbon economy," he said. "They don't have to repeat all the same mistakes that we've made."

Rhone Resch, president and chief executive officer of the Solar Energy Industries Association, welcomed Obama's commitment to fighting climate change with clean energy intiatives.

“This is a watershed moment in our nation’s history," he said. "Today, climate change is a real and growing threat to America and the rest of the world. We commend the president for offering a bold, decisive plan to combat climate change and to mitigate the impacts of carbon pollution.

“This is our moment in time. America’s solar energy industry stands ready to do our part to help fight climate change and usher in a new era of clean energy in America and around the world. Despite what some critics say, this isn’t a choice between clean energy and a robust economy. We can have both, and solar is showing how to make that possible.”