President Obama warned Tuesday that the global economic recession could hinder the ability of countries to take necessary steps to combat climate change.
“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,” Obama told a U.N. summit on climate change. “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.” Obama acknowledged that the United States has previously failed to recognize the magnitude of the climate change issue, and he pledged his government’s commitment to developing clean energy sources and reducing greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming. “We understand the gravity of the climate threat. We are determined to act. And we will meet our responsibility to future generations,” Obama said. However, his speech lacked specific details on targets for greenhouse gas emissions and was received with polite applause. It was Obama’s first speech at the United Nations, following eight years of the Bush administration, which critics said minimized the role of the world body. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon convened the summit to highlight the need for a concerted global effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and help developing nations cope with rising sea levels, diminishing fresh water sources, reduced agriculture production, increased disease and other current or expected effects of climate change.
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Ban called for faster progress on a new international climate change treaty scheduled to be completed in December in Copenhagen, Denmark. Progress in the negotiations involving almost 200 countries has been slowed by disputes over the roles of industrialized powers and major greenhouse gas emitters such as the United States and emerging nations such as China that have become major emitters in their rush to economic development. Obama said “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.” China and the United States are the world’s two biggest emitters of greenhouse gases. While Obama didn’t specify China, his comment appeared focused on the role of the world’s major growing economy in the climate change debate. “Some of these nations have already made great strides with the development and deployment of clean energy,” Obama said. “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.” The new climate treaty being negotiated by the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change would succeed the Kyoto Protocol, the world’s first major climate change treaty, which expires in 2012. Ban called for the new pact to include robust targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and significant financial support from industrialized nations to help developing countries adapt to climate change. Climate change is caused by increased greenhouse gas pollution in the atmosphere that traps in heat to raise temperatures.