Obama speaks to UN about climate

I have been worried that the failure of the US Senate to pass a new climate bill would negatively affect discussions in Copenhagen, but maybe Obama can reassure the EU and other nations that the US is committed to fighting climate change:

By Christi Parsons

Reporting from New York City – President Obama this morning issued an appeal to world leaders to help avert “an irreversible catastrophe” in the Earth’s climate, accepting a portion of blame for global warming on behalf of the United States but also urging the world’s biggest polluters to change their ways.

Speaking before a United Nations summit on climate change, the president’s first address to the world body, Obama touted steps the U.S. has taken to slow global warming and attempted to reassure the world that Americans are committed to the cause.

“We understand the gravity of the climate threat,” Obama said. “We are determined to act. And we will meet our responsibility to future generations.”

The president also urged world leaders to work toward an international agreement on global warming as they draw closer to a U.N. summit in Copenhagen the end of this year.

The remarks come at a time of rising concern about progress in those talks. Aides to Obama say things aren’t proceeding as quickly as they would like, and are leaving open the possibility that talks will extend into next year.

While there are dire predictions coming from other quarters — European officials say the talks are close to deadlock — administration officials think there still is cause for hope.

This morning, Obama tried to make the case for it. He ticked off a list of steps the U.S. has taken, including investing economic stimulus money in clean energy projects and raising its vehicle emission standards.

Notably, he did not call for the Senate to pass a bill before the Copenhagen meeting in December, or even to get one out of committee by then.

But the president laid down a personal marker on the issue, speaking in starker terms than he has used in months to describe the risk of not acting.

“The security and stability of each nation and all peoples — our prosperity, our health, our safety — are in jeopardy,” Obama said. “And the time we have to reverse this tide is running out.”

Obama also offered a case for every nation to rise to the challenge, asserting that individual countries can still pursue economic prosperity while doing their part to protect the planet.

“Each of us must do what we can when we can to grow our economies without endangering our planet, and we must all do it together,” Obama said. “We must seize the opportunity to make Copenhagen a significant step forward in the global fight against climate change.”

The poorest nations have more to gain by correcting course, Obama suggested, arguing that they suffer disproportionately from the effects of climate change.

“For these are the nations that are already living with the unfolding effects of a warming planet – famine and drought, disappearing coastal villages and the conflict that arises from scarce resources,” Obama said.

“Their future is no longer a choice between a growing economy and a cleaner planet, because their survival depends on both.”

Chinese President Hu Jintao is also addressing the climate change summit today, in addition to meeting with Obama privately this afternoon.




NEW YORK – President Barack Obama urged world leaders at the United Nations on Tuesday to act swiftly to address climate change, but did not offer a plan, or timetable, to get stalled cap-and-trade climate legislation through the U.S. Senate.

“After too many years of inaction and denial, there is finally widespread recognition of the urgency of the challenge before us. We know what needs to be done,” Obama told fellow heads of state gathered for a climate change summit called by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon.

“The journey is long. The journey is hard,” Obama added. “We don’t have much time left to make that journey.”

In advance of a key climate-change conference this December in Copenhagen, Denmark, many diplomats and environmentalists were hoping that Obama would detail his strategy to move House-approved carbon-emissions trading legislation through the Senate and onto his desk to be signed into law. But Obama only made a vague pledge to keep pushing for the measure.

“The House of Representatives passed an energy and climate bill in June that would finally make clean energy the profitable kind of energy for American businesses and dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” Obama explained. “One committee has already acted on this bill in the Senate, and I look forward to engaging with others as we move forward.”

Obama said little about the resistance in the Senate, but indicated the recent economic slump has left some lawmakers reluctant to impose emissions charges that could affect a weakened economy.

“We seek sweeping but necessary change in the midst of a global recession, where every nation’s most immediate priority is reviving their economy and putting their people back to work. And so all of us will face doubts and difficulties in our own capitals as we try to reach a lasting solution to the climate challenge,” Obama said. “But I’m here today to say that difficulty is no excuse for complacency. Unease is no excuse for inaction.”

The president insisted his administration has taken a series of important, groundbreaking actions to fight global warming, such as increasing fuel economy standards and directing stimulus funds and tax credits to energy efficiency.

“Taken together, these steps represent an historic recognition on behalf of the American people and their government,” he said. “We understand the gravity of the climate threat. We are determined to act. We will meet our responsibility to future generations.”

Obama also reminded his international audience that his administration’s support for action on the issue was a break with that of his predecessor, Republican George W. Bush, whose appointees were often openly skeptical about the urgency of the climate-change problem.

“It is true that for too many years, mankind has been slow to respond to or even recognize the magnitude of the climate threat. It is true of my own country as well. We recognize that,” Obama said. “But this is a new day. It is a new era.”

The president signaled that any global treaty to address climate change must include commitments from emerging economies, such as China and India that were omitted from the first international treaty, the Kyoto Protocol.

“We cannot meet this challenge unless all the largest emitters of greenhouse gas pollution act together,” Obama said. “There is no other way.”

Speaking in advance of Obama’s address, Greenpeace spokesman Kert Davies said administration officials were tallying up a variety of less important actions on climate change to divert attention from the inaction on cap-and-trade.

“They’ve gathered this bag of Christmas ornaments they took to Copenhagen, saying, ‘Look, we can do all these things,’ ” Davies said. “We would say Obama needs to exert more leadership and push.”

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