President Barack Obama at UN Climate Change Summit

President Obama:
Good morning. I want to thank the Secretary
General for organizing this summit, and all the leaders
who are participating. That so many of us are here
today is a recognition that the threat from climate change
is serious, it is urgent, and it is growing. Our generation’s response to
this challenge will be judged by history, for if we
fail to meet it — boldly, swiftly, and together
— we risk consigning future generations to an
irreversible catastrophe. No nation, however large
or small, wealthy or poor, can escape the impact
of climate change. Rising sea levels
threaten every coastline. More powerful storms and floods
threaten every continent. More frequent droughts and
crop failures breed hunger and conflict in places where hunger
and conflict already thrive. On shrinking islands, families
are already being forced to flee their homes as climate refugees. The security and stability of
each nation and all peoples — our prosperity, our
health, and our safety — are in jeopardy. And the time we have to reverse
this tide is running out. And yet, we can reverse it. John F. Kennedy once observed that “Our problems are man-made, therefore they may
be solved by man.” It is true that
for too many years, mankind has been slow to respond
or even recognize the magnitude of the climate threat. It is true of my own
country, as well. We recognize that. But this is a new day. It is a new era. And I am proud to say that the
United States has done more to promote clean energy and reduce
carbon pollution in the last eight months than at any
other time in our history. We are making our government’s
largest ever investment in renewable energy — an investment aimed at doubling the generating capacity from wind and other renewable resources in three years. Across America, entrepreneurs
are constructing wind turbines and solar panels and batteries
for hybrid cars with the help of loan guarantees
and tax credits — projects that are creating
new jobs and new industries. We’re investing billions to
cut energy waste in our homes, our buildings, and appliances — helping American families save money on energy
bills in the process. We’ve proposed the very first
national policy aimed at both increasing fuel economy
and reducing greenhouse gas pollution for all new
cars and trucks — a standard that will also save
consumers money and our nation oil. We’re moving forward with our
nation’s first offshore wind energy projects. We’re investing billions to
capture carbon pollution so that we can clean up our coal plants. And just this week, we announced
that for the first time ever, we’ll begin tracking how much
greenhouse gas pollution is being emitted
throughout the country. Later this week, I will work
with my colleagues at the G20 to phase out fossil fuel subsidies
so that we can better address our climate challenge. And already, we know that the
recent drop in overall U.S. emissions is due in part to
steps that promote greater efficiency and greater
use of renewable energy. Most importantly, 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. One committee has already acted
on this bill in the Senate and I look forward to engaging with
others as we move forward. Because no one nation can
meet this challenge alone, the United States has also
engaged more allies and partners in finding a solution
than ever before. In April, we convened the
first of what have now been six meetings of the Major Economies
Forum on Energy and Climate here in the United States. In Trinidad, I proposed an
Energy and Climate Partnership for the Americas. We’ve worked through the World
Bank to promote renewable energy projects and technologies
in the developing world. And we have put climate at the
top of our diplomatic agenda when it comes to our
relationships with countries as varied as China and
Brazil; India and Mexico; from the continent of Africa
to the continent of Europe. Taken together, these steps
represent a historic recognition on behalf of the American
people and their government. We understand the gravity
of the climate threat. We are determined to act. And we will meet our
responsibility to future generations. But though many of our nations
have taken bold action and share in this determination, we did
not come here to celebrate progress today. We came because there’s so
much more progress to be made. We came because there’s so
much more work to be done. It is work that
will not be easy. As we head towards Copenhagen,
there should be no illusions that the hardest part of our
journey is in front of us. 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. But I’m here today to say that
difficulty is no excuse for complacency. Unease is no excuse
for inaction. And we must not allow the
perfect to become the enemy of progress. 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. We must seize the opportunity
to make Copenhagen a significant step forward in the global
fight against climate change. We also cannot allow the
old divisions that have characterized the climate debate
for so many years to block our progress. Yes, the developed nations that
caused much of the damage to our climate over the last century
still have a responsibility to lead — and that includes
the United States. And we will continue to do so — by investing in renewable energy and promoting greater efficiency and slashing our emissions to reach the targets we set for 2020 and our long-term goal for 2050. But those rapidly growing
developing nations that will produce nearly all the growth in
global carbon emissions in the decades ahead must do
their part, as well. Some of these nations have
already made great strides with the development and
deployment of clean energy. Still, they need to commit to
strong measures at home and agree to stand behind those
commitments just as the developed nations must
stand behind their own. We cannot meet this challenge
unless all the largest emitters of greenhouse gas
pollution act together. There’s no other way. We must also energize our
efforts to put other developing nations — especially the poorest and most vulnerable — on a path to sustained growth. These nations do not have the
same resources to combat climate change as countries like the
United States or China do, but they have the most
immediate stake in a solution. For these are the nations that
are already living with the unfolding effects of
a warming planet — famine, drought, disappearing
coastal villages, and the conflicts that
arise from scarce resources. Their future is no longer a
choice between a growing economy and a cleaner planet, because
their survival depends on both. It will do little good to
alleviate poverty if you can no longer harvest your crops
or find drinkable water. And that is why we have a
responsibility to provide the financial and technical
assistance needed to help these nations adapt to the impacts
of climate change and pursue low-carbon development. What we are seeking, after all,
is not simply an agreement to limit greenhouse gas emissions. We seek an agreement that will
allow all nations to grow and raise living standards without
endangering the planet. By developing and disseminating
clean technology and sharing our know-how, we can help developing
nations leap-frog dirty energy technologies and reduce
dangerous emissions. Mr. Secretary, as
we meet here today, the good news is that after
too many years of inaction and denial, there’s finally
widespread recognition of the urgency of the
challenge before us. We know what needs to be done. We know that our planet’s future
depends on a global commitment to permanently reduce
greenhouse gas pollution. We know that if we put the right
rules and incentives in place, we will unleash the creative
power of our best scientists and engineers and entrepreneurs
to build a better world. And so many nations have already
taken the first step on the journey towards that goal. But the journey is long
and the journey is hard. And we don’t have much time
left to make that journey. It’s a journey that will require
each of us to persevere through setbacks, and fight for
every inch of progress, even when it comes
in fits and starts. So let us begin. For if we are flexible
and pragmatic, if we can resolve to work
tirelessly in common effort, then we will achieve our common
purpose: a world that is safer, cleaner, and healthier
than the one we found; and a future that is
worthy of our children. Thank you very much. (applause)

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