President Barack Obama on Tuesday urged nations to combat climate change immediately, saying the threat it causes is the “one issue that will define the contours of this century.”
“I call on all countries to join us -– not next year, or the year after, but right now, because no nation can meet this global threat alone,” Obama said.
Obama urged China, the the most populous country on Earth with the fastest increase in carbon pollution, to join the United States in carbon reduction.
“We have a responsibility to lead,” Obama said. “That's what big nations have to do.”
Obama gave his 15-minute speech at the U.N. Climate Summit 2014, a one-day meeting open to all 193 U.N. member states, designed to showcase climate action commitments from governments, local leaders and the private sector in an effort to build toward a new global climate agreement due in 2015.
He spoke of helping populations around the world combat climate change by participating in more than a dozen new climate change partnerships and administering a new executive order that requires federal agencies to consider climate resilience in international development programs and investments.
“In each of our countries, there are interests that will be resistant to action. In each country there is a suspicion that if we act and other countries don't -- that we will be at an economic disadvantage,” Obama said. “But we have to lead.”
Obama touted the progress the U.S. has made under his Climate Action Plan to reduce emissions, partner with companies to advance clean energy solutions and energy efficiency and strengthen resilience to climate impacts.
In 2012, U.S. greenhouse gas emissions fell to the lowest level in nearly two decades. Since Obama took office, wind energy production has tripled, and solar energy has increased by a factor of ten. This summer, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed the first carbon pollution standards for existing power plants, which account for a third of U.S. carbon pollution. Obama is helping state and local leaders reduce carbon pollution and prepare for the impacts of climate change through a $1 billion competition.
Obama said a changing climate had led to floods in Miami, wildfires in the West, hurricanes in the north and drought in the middle of the country.
“The climate is changing faster than our efforts to address it,” he said. “The alarm bells keep ringing. Our citizens keep marching. We cannot pretend we do not hear them. We have to answer the call. We know what we have to do to avoid irreparable harm. We have to cut carbon pollution in our own countries to prevent the worst effects of climate change. We have to adapt to the impacts that, unfortunately, we can no longer avoid. And we have to work together as a global community to tackle this global threat before it is too late.”
Raymond C. Offenheiser, president of Oxfam America, said Obama’s speech was “encouraging” but more needs to be done by the president and Congress.
“U.S. policy on the whole does not reflect the urgency of the president’s rhetoric,” he said. “ New efforts must deliver much needed climate finance for poor countries and take further measures to reduce emissions in the U.S.”