Speeches, Remarks & Events
Meeting the Climate Change Challenge
21 September 2009
The following op-ed first appeared on the Guardian website
Tomorrow, September 22nd, U.S. President Barack Obama will speak to world leaders on climate change during a special U.N. summit in New York on the eve of the 64th session of the U.N. General Assembly.
The nations of the world are working hard right now to negotiate a new international agreement to combat climate change.
Climate change is one of the greatest challenges facing our world today. Already its impacts are apparent and consequences severe. Arctic sea ice is disappearing faster than expected. The Greenland Ice Sheet is shrinking. Sea levels threaten to rise higher than previously anticipated. And water supplies are increasingly at risk from both melting glaciers and extreme climate events, such as droughts and floods. These changes threaten not only the environment, but also security and stability.
The science sends a simple and stark message: all countries must work together to combat climate change, and the time for action is now.
President Obama recognizes that the United States must be a leader in the global effort to combat climate change. We have a responsibility as the world's largest historic emitter of greenhouse gases. We know that without U.S. emissions reductions no solution to climate change is possible, so the U.S. will take the lead in building a 21st century clean energy economy.
When it comes to climate change, President Obama is taking the U.S. in a new direction. The President called on the U.S. Congress to develop comprehensive clean energy legislation to cut emissions 14 percent from 2005 levels by 2020 and 83 percent by 2050. A bill has passed the House of Representatives and is making its way through Congress. The President's economic stimulus package includes over $80 billion for clean energy. And recently instituted vehicle standards will increase fuel economy and reduce emissions.
From an environmental perspective, the EU and U.S. climate packages are comparable and lead to emissions reductions that are consistent with the science. Rather than debate on negligible differences between EU and U.S. policies, it is far more critical to work together to prevent unchecked emissions growth among key emerging economies.
To preserve a safe and livable planet, all major emitting nations have to join together to take strong action. There is no other way to contain climate change - the International Energy Agency estimates 97 percent of future emissions growth will come from the developing world.
The U.S. is pursuing a global strategy to combat climate change through the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiating process, the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate and key bilateral relationships.
To achieve a strong international agreement and meet the climate challenge all countries must be fully engaged. Developed countries need to reduce their emissions substantially by 2020 on an absolute basis, compared to a 2005 or 1990 baseline. Major developing nations must take actions that will substantially reduce their emissions by 2020 on a relative basis, compared to their so-called "business as usual" path. Other developing countries should focus on preparing low-carbon growth plans - with financial and technical assistance where needed - to guide their longer-term development path. It is important to ensure that a new agreement will not require developing countries to take steps that would stifle their capacity to develop and grow.
Ultimately, a climate change agreement must be about not only limiting carbon emissions but about providing a pathway for sustainable development. Clean energy development is the only sustainable way forward. To facilitate this path, countries with advanced capabilities must stand ready to develop new technologies and assist developing countries in deploying them. If we work together, the effort to build a clean energy global economy can provide significant opportunity, driving investment, economic growth and job creation around the world. This is why we are elevating climate and clean energy to a top tier issue in key bilateral relationships, including the United Kingdom. The U.S. and UK public and private sectors are global leaders in research, development and deployment of new technologies and regulatory approaches that are enabling us to reduce emissions and produce jobs. It is a subject of almost daily discussion with our British counterparts.
The U.S. is clear in its intent to secure a strong international agreement, and I am confident that together we can meet the climate change challenge.