Obama: Climate Action Is America’s Duty

Evan Vucci/AP

Even as House Re­pub­lic­ans gear up to vote against a key piece of his cli­mate-change agenda, Pres­id­ent Obama sent a mes­sage to his crit­ics from Par­is: Look around.

At a press con­fer­ence at the U.N. cli­mate talks, Obama said that the sheer volume of world lead­ers at the event showed how ser­i­ously the rest of the world was tack­ling the prob­lem. Cen­ter­ing on a theme of “lead­er­ship,” he said that Amer­ica had a duty to act on the is­sue—and that the next pres­id­ent, re­gard­less of party, would have to fol­low suit.

“Your cred­ib­il­ity and Amer­ica’s abil­ity to in­flu­ence events de­pends on tak­ing ser­i­ously what oth­er coun­tries care about,” he said. “I think the next pres­id­ent of the United States is go­ing to need to think this is really im­port­ant.”

The Re­pub­lic­an pres­id­en­tial can­did­ates have roundly come out against cli­mate-change ac­tion, threat­en­ing to undo emis­sions reg­u­la­tions im­me­di­ately upon tak­ing of­fice. But the cli­mate agenda also faces a more im­me­di­ate threat.

House Re­pub­lic­ans are set to vote Tues­day on a pair of res­ol­u­tions to over­turn car­bon-emis­sion rules on new and ex­ist­ing power plants, al­though the Sen­ate-passed meas­ures face a sure veto. Re­pub­lic­ans have also been threat­en­ing to with­hold U.S. con­tri­bu­tions to the Green Cli­mate Fund, a U.N. pro­gram to help de­vel­op­ing coun­tries that are fa­cing danger from cli­mate change.

Re­pub­lic­ans are clam­or­ing for a chance to vote down any cli­mate deal reached in Par­is and are hop­ing that such a deal is treated as a leg­ally-bind­ing treaty that re­quires the Sen­ate’s con­sent. Obama said that parts of a deal should be “leg­ally bind­ing,” but that in­di­vidu­al pledges should not, which would avert the need for Sen­ate ap­prov­al.

Obama also ex­pressed con­fid­ence that the U.S. would be able to meet its cli­mate com­mit­ments, in­clud­ing a $3 bil­lion pledge to the Green Cli­mate Fund.

The pres­id­ent said that money for cli­mate as­sist­ance was already “em­bed­ded in many pro­grams” (and con­tri­bu­tions to U.N. cli­mate funds have been go­ing on since the George W. Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion) and told re­port­ers that in­ter­na­tion­al as­sist­ance would not dry up. Such as­sist­ance, he said, was part of Amer­ica’s role in the world.

“This is part of Amer­ic­an lead­er­ship. This is part of the de­bate we have to have in the U.S. more fre­quently,” Obama said. “Too of­ten in Wash­ing­ton, Amer­ic­an lead­er­ship is defined by wheth­er or not we’re send­ing troops some­where.”

Call­ing him­self “op­tim­ist­ic” in the world’s abil­ity to tackle not only cli­mate change, but the threat from the Is­lam­ic State, Obama drew a link to an­oth­er world crisis that had been aver­ted just a year ago.

“We went, what, a month, month and a half, where people were pretty sure Ebola was go­ing to kill us all,” he said. “Nobody asks me about it any­more.

“It’s not easy,” he con­tin­ued. “It takes time, and when you’re in the midst of it, it’s fright­en­ing. But it’s solv­able.”

Deal­ing with that crisis, he said, which last fall threw the coun­try in­to a frenzy, pre­pared him for the chal­lenges the world faces today—es­pe­cially the dual threats of ter­ror­ism and cli­mate change. The lat­ter, he said, “is an eco­nom­ic and se­cur­ity im­per­at­ive that we have to tackle now.”

And, ad­dress­ing Amer­ic­ans skep­tic­al of the U.S. fo­cus on cli­mate change in the wake of deadly ter­ror­ist at­tacks, Obama ex­pressed con­fid­ence in the coun­try’s abil­ity to juggle mul­tiple threats.

“Great na­tions can handle a lot at once.”

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