Global warming: Obama tells UN he's "determined to act"

To battle climate change, President Obama told the UN on Tuesday that the US is ready to join other developed countries in cutting emissions.

Seth Wenig/AP
President Barack Obama speaks at the summit on climate change at the United Nations headquarters in New York on Tuesday.

President Obama on Tuesday told the largest-ever gathering of world leaders on climate change that the United States is ready to join other developed nations in cutting carbon emissions. But he admonished developing countries when he said that the world faces mounting climate-related disasters if they don’t play a crucial role.

“Developed nations still have a responsibility to lead” in the battle against climate change, Mr. Obama told a United Nations summit of more than 100 heads of state. “But,” he emphasized with a pause, “those rapidly growing developing nations that will produce all of the growth in emissions in the decade ahead must make great strides as well.”

The summit, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said, was aimed at “jump-starting” stalled global negotiations on cutting carbon emissions. It aimed to give a fresh push to global climate-change negotiations that are set to conclude in Copenhagen, Denmark, in December.

The meeting drew heads of state from most of the world’s major economies and some of its most threatened countries. That represented much greater interest than was shown at a similar meeting last year.

Why the difference? Two key reasons: Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao. Their presence infused diplomats with at least modest hope that what has seemed a march to failure in Copenhagen can be reversed.

Obama’s embrace of the climate-change issue and his speech to the summit contrasted with President Bush – who stayed away from Mr. Ban’s summit on climate change last year.

Obama acknowledged Americans’ mixed views on climate change, saying that the global reluctance to act “is true of my own country as well.” But he then told the assembled leaders, “This is a new day,” and he claimed the US has done more to reduce carbon pollution in past eight months “than any time in our history.”

He cited a “historic recognition” of the climate challenge by the American people and their government. “We are determined to act and will meet our responsibility to future generations,” he said.

Mr. Hu, who spoke later, represented the world’s largest emitter of carbon, but also the world’s developing economies. His presence suggested China’s desire to play a leadership role in shaping policy on a key global issue of the 21st century.

Hu outlined a four-point national climate-change program that includes boosting non-fossil fuels to 15 percent of energy use by 2020 and creating nearly 100 million acres of new forest cover.

Like Obama, Hu placed an emphasis on “responsibility,” but he put more weight on the responsibility of developed countries – to help developing countries achieve sustainable development and to share the technologies they need to cut carbon emissions.

Hu said a global accord can work only if it is a “win-win” for developed and developing nations.

In a similar vein, Ban called on the leaders of industrialized nations to take the first step toward tough commitments – a step he said could provide the necessary impetus for developing countries to act.

The stakes are high, Ban said. The world has less than 10 years, he said, to avoid the “worst-case scenarios” for climate change – such as swallowed island nations and regional wars touched off by resources changes. Moreover, the UN’s chief scientist on climate change predicted that a dozen countries risk becoming failed states in coming years – which mean higher potential for conflict and international security threats.

The summit took place on the same day a new study found that carbon emissions worldwide are falling after years of steep increases – but only because of the global decline in economic activity.


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