President Obama from COP21: “We recognize our role in creating this problem and we embrace our responsibility to do something about it.”

President Obama spoke to those gathered at the COP21 Climate Change Summit in Paris on Monday.

(President Obama delivers remarks at COP21 in Paris on the global community’s need to address the threat of climate change. November 30, 2015.)

PRESIDENT OBAMA:

Nearly 200 nations have assembled here this week — a declaration that for all the challenges we face, the growing threat of climate change could define the contours of this century more dramatically than any other. What should give us hope that this is a turning point, that this is the moment we finally determined we would save our planet, is the fact that our nations share a sense of urgency about this challenge and a growing realization that it is within our power to do something about it. […] [What I saw in Alaska] was a preview of one possible future — a glimpse of our children’s fate if the climate keeps changing faster than our efforts to address it. Submerged countries. Abandoned cities. Fields that no longer grow. Political disruptions that trigger new conflict, and even more floods of desperate peoples seeking the sanctuary of nations not their own. […]

I’ve come here personally, as the leader of the world’s largest economy and the second-largest emitter, to say that the United States of America not only recognizes our role in creating this problem, we embrace our responsibility to do something about it.

I believe, in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., that there is such a thing as being too late. And when it comes to climate change, that hour is almost upon us. But if we act here, if we act now, if we place our own short-term interests behind the air that our young people will breathe, and the food that they will eat, and the water that they will drink, and the hopes and dreams that sustain their lives, then we won’t be too late for them.

Transcript: Remarks by President Obama at the First Session of COP21

Le Bourget, Paris, France

12:47 P.M. CET

PRESIDENT OBAMA: President Hollande, Mr. Secretary General, fellow leaders. We have come to Paris to show our resolve.

We offer our condolences to the people of France for the barbaric attacks on this beautiful city. We stand united in solidarity not only to deliver justice to the terrorist network responsible for those attacks but to protect our people and uphold the enduring values that keep us strong and keep us free. And we salute the people of Paris for insisting this crucial conference go on — an act of defiance that proves nothing will deter us from building the future we want for our children. What greater rejection of those who would tear down our world than marshaling our best efforts to save it?

Nearly 200 nations have assembled here this week — a declaration that for all the challenges we face, the growing threat of climate change could define the contours of this century more dramatically than any other. What should give us hope that this is a turning point, that this is the moment we finally determined we would save our planet, is the fact that our nations share a sense of urgency about this challenge and a growing realization that it is within our power to do something about it.

Our understanding of the ways human beings disrupt the climate advances by the day. Fourteen of the fifteen warmest years on record have occurred since the year 2000 — and 2015 is on pace to be the warmest year of all. No nation — large or small, wealthy or poor — is immune to what this means.

This summer, I saw the effects of climate change firsthand in our northernmost state, Alaska, where the sea is already swallowing villages and eroding shorelines; where permafrost thaws and the tundra burns; where glaciers are melting at a pace unprecedented in modern times. And it was a preview of one possible future — a glimpse of our children’s fate if the climate keeps changing faster than our efforts to address it. Submerged countries. Abandoned cities. Fields that no longer grow. Political disruptions that trigger new conflict, and even more floods of desperate peoples seeking the sanctuary of nations not their own.

That future is not one of strong economies, nor is it one where fragile states can find their footing. That future is one that we have the power to change. Right here. Right now. But only if we rise to this moment. As one of America’s governors has said, “We are the first generation to feel the impact of climate change, and the last generation that can do something about it.”

I’ve come here personally, as the leader of the world’s largest economy and the second-largest emitter, to say that the United States of America not only recognizes our role in creating this problem, we embrace our responsibility to do something about it.

Over the last seven years, we’ve made ambitious investments in clean energy, and ambitious reductions in our carbon emissions. We’ve multiplied wind power threefold, and solar power more than twentyfold, helping create parts of America where these clean power sources are finally cheaper than dirtier, conventional power. We’ve invested in energy efficiency in every way imaginable. We’ve said no to infrastructure that would pull high-carbon fossil fuels from the ground, and we’ve said yes to the first-ever set of national standards limiting the amount of carbon pollution our power plants can release into the sky.

The advances we’ve made have helped drive our economic output to all-time highs, and drive our carbon pollution to its lowest levels in nearly two decades.

But the good news is this is not an American trend alone. Last year, the global economy grew while global carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels stayed flat. And what this means can’t be overstated. We have broken the old arguments for inaction. We have proved that strong economic growth and a safer environment no longer have to conflict with one another; they can work in concert with one another.

And that should give us hope. One of the enemies that we’ll be fighting at this conference is cynicism, the notion we can’t do anything about climate change. Our progress should give us hope during these two weeks — hope that is rooted in collective action.

Earlier this month in Dubai, after years of delay, the world agreed to work together to cut the super-pollutants known as HFCs. That’s progress. Already, prior to Paris, more than 180 countries representing nearly 95 percent of global emissions have put forward their own climate targets. That is progress. For our part, America is on track to reach the emissions targets that I set six years ago in Copenhagen — we will reduce our carbon emissions in the range of 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. And that’s why, last year, I set a new target: America will reduce our emissions 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels within 10 years from now.

So our task here in Paris is to turn these achievements into an enduring framework for human progress — not a stopgap solution, but a long-term strategy that gives the world confidence in a low-carbon future.

Here, in Paris, let’s secure an agreement that builds in ambition, where progress paves the way for regularly updated targets — targets that are not set for each of us but by each of us, taking into account the differences that each nation is facing.

Here in Paris, let’s agree to a strong system of transparency that gives each of us the confidence that all of us are meeting our commitments. And let’s make sure that the countries who don’t yet have the full capacity to report on their targets receive the support that they need.

Here in Paris, let’s reaffirm our commitment that resources will be there for countries willing to do their part to skip the dirty phase of development. And I recognize this will not be easy. It will take a commitment to innovation and the capital to continue driving down the cost of clean energy. And that’s why, this afternoon, I’ll join many of you to announce an historic joint effort to accelerate public and private clean energy innovation on a global scale.

Here in Paris, let’s also make sure that these resources flow to the countries that need help preparing for the impacts of climate change that we can no longer avoid. We know the truth that many nations have contributed little to climate change but will be the first to feel its most destructive effects. For some, particularly island nations — whose leaders I’ll meet with tomorrow — climate change is a threat to their very existence. And that’s why today, in concert with other nations, America confirms our strong and ongoing commitment to the Least Developed Countries Fund. And tomorrow, we’ll pledge new contributions to risk insurance initiatives that help vulnerable populations rebuild stronger after climate-related disasters.

And finally, here in Paris, let’s show businesses and investors that the global economy is on a firm path towards a low-carbon future. If we put the right rules and incentives in place, we’ll unleash the creative power of our best scientists and engineers and entrepreneurs to deploy clean energy technologies and the new jobs and new opportunities that they create all around the world. There are hundreds of billions of dollars ready to deploy to countries around the world if they get the signal that we mean business this time. Let’s send that signal.

That’s what we seek in these next two weeks. Not simply an agreement to roll back the pollution we put into our skies, but an agreement that helps us lift people from poverty without condemning the next generation to a planet that’s beyond its capacity to repair. Here, in Paris, we can show the world what is possible when we come together, united in common effort and by a common purpose.

And let there be no doubt, the next generation is watching what we do. Just over a week ago, I was in Malaysia, where I held a town hall with young people, and the first question I received was from a young Indonesian woman. And it wasn’t about terrorism, it wasn’t about the economy, it wasn’t about human rights. It was about climate change. And she asked whether I was optimistic about what we can achieve here in Paris, and what young people like her could do to help.

I want our actions to show her that we’re listening. I want our actions to be big enough to draw on the talents of all our people — men and women, rich and poor — I want to show her passionate, idealistic young generation that we care about their future.

For I believe, in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., that there is such a thing as being too late. And when it comes to climate change, that hour is almost upon us. But if we act here, if we act now, if we place our own short-term interests behind the air that our young people will breathe, and the food that they will eat, and the water that they will drink, and the hopes and dreams that sustain their lives, then we won’t be too late for them.

And, my fellow leaders, accepting this challenge will not reward us with moments of victory that are clear or quick. Our progress will be measured differently — in the suffering that is averted, and a planet that’s preserved. And that’s what’s always made this so hard. Our generation may not even live to see the full realization of what we do here. But the knowledge that the next generation will be better off for what we do here — can we imagine a more worthy reward than that? Passing that on to our children and our grandchildren, so that when they look back and they see what we did here in Paris, they can take pride in our achievement.

Let that be the common purpose here in Paris. A world that is worthy of our children. A world that is marked not by conflict, but by cooperation; and not by human suffering, but by human progress. A world that’s safer, and more prosperous, and more secure, and more free than the one that we inherited.

Let’s get to work. Thank you very much. (Applause.)

END
1:01 P.M. CET

Bolding added.

  7 comments for “President Obama from COP21: “We recognize our role in creating this problem and we embrace our responsibility to do something about it.”

  1. JanF
    December 1, 2015 at 1:10 pm

    President Obama has been a global leader on the issue of climate change. It is a shame that his legislative partners in the United States Congress is made up of climate change deniers who toss snowballs around on the well of the Senate and say “look, not warm here!!!”. :(

    This issue should energize our young people: the future is only bleak if we don’t take an active role in determining who our leaders will be.

    We need a Democratic president and a Democratic Congress to help him or her continue the policies of the Obama Administration.

  2. December 1, 2015 at 1:12 pm

    Thanks for this, Jan. I hope the representatives of the participating nations will take these words to heart. We could do a great deal to reduce emissions in this country were it not for the obstructionists.

    • JanF
      December 1, 2015 at 1:20 pm

      You mean guys like former Senator James Inhofe (R-NotOK):

      “In case we have forgotten, because we keep hearing that 2014 has been the warmest year on record, I ask the chair, you know what this is? It’s a snowball. And that’s just from outside here. So it’s very, very cold out.”

      Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe, the biggest and loudest climate change denier in Congress, last week on the floor of the senate. But his facile argument, that it’s cold enough for snow to exist in Washington, D.C., therefore climate change is a hoax, was rebutted in the same venue by Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse:

      “You can believe NASA and you can believe what their satellites measure on the planet, or you can believe the Senator with the snowball. The United States Navy takes this very seriously, to the point where Admiral Locklear, who is the head of the Pacific Command, has said that climate change is the biggest threat that we face in the Pacific…you can either believe the United States Navy or you can believe the Senator with the snowball…every major American scientific society has put itself on record, many of them a decade ago, that climate change is deadly real. They measure it, they see it, they know why it happens. The predictions correlate with what we see as they increasingly come true. And the fundamental principles, that it is derived from carbon pollution, which comes from burning fossil fuels, are beyond legitimate dispute…so you can believe every single major American scientific society, or you can believe the Senator with the snowball.

  3. JanF
    December 2, 2015 at 5:37 am

    The House just passed a bill to block the EPA’s Clean Power Plan. This gives the Republicans running for re-election next year a great base-pleasing bullet point for their fundraising emails: “voted to kill the planet”. The bill will not pass cloture in the Senate and even if it does, the president will veto it.

    Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy issued warnings to those gathered in Paris that the president is on his own: Congress will not join with the rest of the world to fight climate change:

    “It would obviously be irresponsible for an outgoing president to purport to sign the American people up to international commitments based on a domestic energy plan that is likely illegal,” wrote Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) in a recent Washington Post op-ed. He went on to say that international negotiating partners in Paris “should proceed with caution before entering into an unattainable deal with this administration.”

    House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) also used a recent op-ed to establish Congress’ power and its potential opposition to a climate deal. “Congress will promote the American energy story and reject commitments based on a misguided understanding of our climate, economic progress, and our needs for tomorrow,” McCarthy wrote in Reuters.

    Meanwhile, in the real world: Most Americans Want A Global Agreement On Climate

    As Republican leaders herald Congress’ power to hinder a global climate deal, most Americans say the U.S. should join an international treaty requiring America to reduce emissions, according to a new poll.

    The New York Times and CBS poll released Monday also notes that 63 percent of Americans favor limits on carbon emissions. The poll comes as delegates from nearly 200 countries are meeting in Paris in hopes of negotiating a climate deal that puts the world on a track to limit global warming to no more than 2°C. Many scientists believe that global warming would be irreversible and cause catastrophic effects beyond this threshold.

    The survey puts the American public in line with international public opinion. A recent Pew Research Center poll across 40 countries found that 78 percent of respondents “support the idea of their country limiting greenhouse gas emissions as part of an international agreement in Paris.”

    Maybe someday we can get a Congress that reflects the values of the American people.

  4. JanF
    December 2, 2015 at 2:58 pm

    President Obama wraps up his visit with a press conference:

    (President Obama holds a press conference while attending COP21 in Issy-Les-Moulineaux, France. December 1, 2015.)

    Transcript: Press Conference by President Obama

    NPR: Obama On Climate Change: ‘I Actually Think We’re Going To Solve This Thing’

    “I actually think we’re going to solve this thing.”

    That’s what President Obama said in a news conference just before he left a United Nations summit on climate change.

    “Climate change is a massive problem,” Obama said. “It is a generational problem. It’s a problem that by definition is just about the hardest thing for a political system to absorb, because the effects are gradual, they’re diffused. And yet despite all that … I’m optimistic. I think we’re going to solve it.”

    Just a few years ago, Obama said, nobody would have predicted that more than 150 leaders would come to Paris holding plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

    The president is leaving but members of his administration will be staying behind to work on crafting an agreement.

  5. JanF
    December 2, 2015 at 3:02 pm

    In the News: Businesses Awaken To The Opportunities Of Action On Climate Change

    The business community is well-represented at the United Nations climate summit underway in Paris — and it will be much more engaged in finding positive solutions than ever before.

    It’s a far cry from the first large-scale U.N. conference to address climate change, which took place in Rio de Janeiro in 1992.

    In the past, in fact, business often was an obstacle to action on climate change and seen more as an enemy than a partner. […]

    More than 1,000 business representatives will be in Paris and most will be supportive of climate action, says Edward Cameron, who represents We Mean Business, a nonprofit coalition that is working with companies on climate change.

    “There are always going to be pockets of agreement and pockets of disagreement,” Cameron says. “But what I think we see going into Paris is a far greater level of support from the business community writ large and far more willingness to speak out publicly about this.”

    That includes the media.

    5 interactive ways news outlets are covering climate change

    Most news organisations have been covering the numerous changes surrounding climate change in the run up to the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference.

    Kicking off in Paris on Monday for ten days, the event will bring together world leaders to discuss the implications of this global phenomenon and what measures can be taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions across the planet.

    So how are news outlets providing context to this ongoing issue to their audiences to help them better understand the causes and effects of climate change, especially considering people’s habit of consuming news on their mobile devices?

    Here are five examples of coverage from The New York Times, the Guardian, Bloomberg Business, Financial Times and the The Wall Street Journal.

    Click on the link to see the interactive graphs and video features.

  6. JanF
    December 3, 2015 at 5:51 am

    Commentary from NPR: How Obama Hopes To Achieve U.S. Climate Goals

    When the world’s first climate treaty was signed in Kyoto, Japan, in 1997, then-President Bill Clinton held an airport press conference to brag that the U.S. “showed the way” to make that happen. “I am very pleased that the United States has reached a truly historic agreement with other nations of the world to take unprecedented steps to address the global problem of climate change,” Clinton said at the time. “The agreement is environmentally strong, and economically sound.”

    But months later, the U.S. Senate said it wouldn’t ratify that treaty, even if the rest of the industrialized world did. From then on, the U.S. didn’t have skin in the game — and everyone else knew that. […]

    When President Obama took office, he was eager to get the U.S. government to lead the world in the control of emissions. He had a “national climate action plan” to reduce emissions in the U.S., and, he said, the U.S. would return to the world stage. […]

    … the Obama White House decided to make climate commitments on its own, without Congress. [Former congressman Henry] Waxman says the president actually always had the authority.

    “What President Obama needs to do for the United States to meet its commitments does not depend on an act of Congress,” Waxman explains, “because he can rely on existing law.”

    Two big fixes that President Obama was able to enact without Congress were tougher emissions standards and the Clean Power Plan, powers derived from the Clean Air Act of 1970. Congress is challenging his authority (NOT breaking news) but the courts have consistently upheld environmental rules based on that law.

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