VIDEO AND TRANSCRIPT BELOW
By GLENN THRUSH | 12/18/09
COPENHAGEN — A visibly angry Barack Obama threw down the gauntlet at China and other developing nations Friday, declaring that the time has come “not to talk but to act” on climate change.
Emerging from a multinational meeting boycotted by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, Obama warned delegates that U.S. offers of funding for poor nations would remain on the table “if and only if” developing nations, including China, agreed to international monitoring of their greenhouse gas emissions.
“I have to be honest, as the world watches us … I think our ability to take collective action is in doubt and it hangs in the balance,” Obama told the COP-15 plenary session as hope faded for anything more than a vague political agreement.
“The time for talk is over, this is the bottom line: We can embrace this accord, take a substantial step forward. We can do that, and everyone who is in this room will be part of an historic endeavor, or we can choose delay,” he said.
He added, “The question is whether we will move forward together, or split apart. … We know the fault lines because we’ve been imprisoned by them for years.”
Back home, senators critical to getting a climate bill through Congress have stressed that developing nations must submit to international monitoring — particularly if they want the U.S. to pay hundreds of billions to help combat the destructive impact of climate change.
“The only way we’ll be successful in America is for countries like China and India to make an equivalent commitment,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who is crafting a bipartisan climate bill. “We’re not going to unilaterally disarm.”
While Obama emphasized the U.S. commitment to taking action on climate change, he did not set a deadline for specific Senate action on the climate bill.
Former Vice President Al Gore and other environmental activists have pushed the Senate to pass legislation by April 22, the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, in hope of providing momentum to international talks next year.
The lack of specific domestic and international commitments in Obama’s address indicated that an international agreement still hung in the balance — even as the talks moved into the final weekend.
Overnight reports that world leaders had agreed to a tentative final climate change deal in Copenhagen were greatly exaggerated — and the outcome of the COP-15 conference was still very much up in the air when Air Force One touched down at 9:01 a.m. local time.
“What’s on the table still has large gaps and unanswered questions,” said David Waskow, climate change program director at Oxfam America. “The United States must get more specific to make a real deal possible.”
After addressing the delegates, Obama met with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao for close to an hour to discuss emissions goals, verification mechanisms and climate financing. The lack of agreement between China and the U.S. — the world’s two largest greenhouse gas emitters — has been a major stumbling block in the talks.
A White house official described the discussion as “constructive” and said that the two leaders asked their negotiators to get together one-on-one after the meeting.
Obama had been expected to meet one-on-one with Danish Prime Minister Lars Rasmussen immediately after landing in Copenhagen Friday morning, followed by an 11 a.m. speech to the conference’s plenary session. But recognizing the urgency of the situation, he quickly cancelled those plans to sit in on a much larger session with Rasmussen, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, a Chinese representative, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and others.
“There are big problems, it is moving very slowly, and China and India are blocking,” Sarkozy told the Danish daily Politiken after leaving the meeting, which broke up at 11:30 a.m.
Weary and frustrated negotiators described a process that still involved the nibbling of policy appetizers at a time when prior conferences were already on to the coffee and dessert of their valedictory speeches.
They warned that none of the several drafts circulating in Copenhagen represented even the bones of a final deal, with many key issues still in flux and time running out. Moreover, U.S. predictions that roadblocks could be thrown up by smaller countries seemed to be coming true, with last-minute objections voiced by Venezuela, Bolivia, Sudan and Saudi Arabia, according to people familiar with talks.
“There are deep differences in opinion and views on how we should solve this. We’ll try our best, until the last minutes of this conference,” Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt told reporters as overnight talks ended.
Negotiators from nearly 200 nations, working around the clock, did agree to a broad mandate to cap the global temperature increase from pre-industrial levels at two degrees Celsius. But there was no deal on emissions caps or specific carbon cuts, according to officials briefed on the talks.
One key sticking point: a demand by industrialized nations that the document produced here be legally binding, the so-called “operational” agreement Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke about yesterday.
Developing countries, led by China, India and the African Union, still seemed unwilling to sign off on a final document, despite a new deal sweetener that could add as much as $30 billion to the $100 billion annual international fund for poor nations by 2020 outlined by Clinton on Thursday.
An official with a developing nation told Reuters that rich nations were offering to cut their carbon emissions by 80 percent by 2050, a proposal that had been rejected by developing nations. Developing nations have always insisted on the need for mid-term targets.
“The situation is desperate,” a top Indian negotiator told the wire service. “There is no agreement on even what to call the text — a declaration, a statement or whatever. They (rich nations) want to make it a politically binding document, which we oppose.”
And the U.S. was still wrestling with China and India over international monitoring of their emissions cuts, a sticking point that ground the entire conference to a halt early Thursday.
Danes monitored the progress of Obama’s arrival obsessively, with cabbies craning at dashboard TV sets to monitor the approach of Air Force One from distant dot to Obama’s arrival. He was accompanied by environment czar Carol Browner, aide Valerie Jarrett, press secretary Robert Gibbs and National Security Adviser Jim Jones.
Read the U.S. president’s address to the climate change summit in Copenhagen
Published on Friday, Dec. 18, 2009
Remarks of President Barack Obama—As prepared for delivery
December 18, 2009
Good morning. It’s an honor to for me to join this distinguished group of leaders from nations around the world. We come together here in Copenhagen because climate change poses a grave and growing danger to our people. You would not be here unless you – like me – were convinced that this danger is real. This is not fiction, this is science. Unchecked, climate change will pose unacceptable risks to our security, our economies, and our planet. That much we know.
So the question before us is no longer the nature of the challenge – the question is our capacity to meet it. For while the reality of climate change is not in doubt, our ability to take collective action hangs in the balance.
I believe that we can act boldly, and decisively, in the face of this common threat. And that is why I have come here today.
As the world’s largest economy and the world’s second largest emitter, America bears our share of responsibility in addressing climate change, and we intend to meet that responsibility. That is why we have renewed our leadership within international climate negotiations, and worked with other nations to phase out fossil fuel subsidies. And that is why we have taken bold action at home – by making historic investments in renewable energy; by putting our people to work increasing efficiency in our homes and buildings; and by pursuing comprehensive legislation to transform to a clean energy economy.
These actions are ambitious, and we are taking them not simply to meet our global responsibilities. We are convinced that changing the way that we produce and use energy is essential to America’s economic future – that it will create millions of new jobs, power new industry, keep us competitive, and spark new innovation. And we are convinced that changing the way we use energy is essential to America’s national security, because it will reduce our dependence on foreign oil, and help us deal with some of the dangers posed by climate change.
So America is going to continue on this course of action no matter what happens in Copenhagen. But we will all be stronger and safer and more secure if we act together. That is why it is in our mutual interest to achieve a global accord in which we agree to take certain steps, and to hold each other accountable for our commitments.
After months of talk, and two weeks of negotiations, I believe that the pieces of that accord are now clear.
First, all major economies must put forward decisive national actions that will reduce their emissions, and begin to turn the corner on climate change. I’m pleased that many of us have already done so, and I’m confident that America will fulfill the commitments that we have made: cutting our emissions in the range of 17 per cent by 2020, and by more than 80 per cent by 2050 in line with final legislation.
Second, we must have a mechanism to review whether we are keeping our commitments, and to exchange this information in a transparent manner. These measures need not be intrusive, or infringe upon sovereignty. They must, however, ensure that an accord is credible, and that we are living up to our obligations. For without such accountability, any agreement would be empty words on a page.
Third, we must have financing that helps developing countries adapt, particularly the least-developed and most vulnerable to climate change. America will be a part of fast-start funding that will ramp up to $10 billion in 2012. And, yesterday, Secretary Clinton made it clear that we will engage in a global effort to mobilize $100 billion in financing by 2020, if – and only if – it is part of the broader accord that I have just described.
Mitigation. Transparency. And financing. It is a clear formula – one that embraces the principle of common but differentiated responses and respective capabilities. And it adds up to a significant accord – one that takes us farther than we have ever gone before as an international community.
The question is whether we will move forward together, or split apart. This is not a perfect agreement, and no country would get everything that it wants. There are those developing countries that want aid with no strings attached, and who think that the most advanced nations should pay a higher price. And there are those advanced nations who think that developing countries cannot absorb this assistance, or that the world’s fastest-growing emitters should bear a greater share of the burden.
We know the fault lines because we’ve been imprisoned by them for years. But here is the bottom line: we can embrace this accord, take a substantial step forward, and continue to refine it and build upon its foundation. We can do that, and everyone who is in this room will be a part of an historic endeavor – one that makes life better for our children and grandchildren.
Or we can again choose delay, falling back into the same divisions that have stood in the way of action for years. And we will be back having the same stale arguments month after month, year after year – all while the danger of climate change grows until it is irreversible.
There is no time to waste. America has made our choice. We have charted our course, we have made our commitments, and we will do what we say. Now, I believe that it’s time for the nations and people of the world to come together behind a common purpose.
We must choose action over inaction; the future over the past – with courage and faith, let us meet our responsibility to our people, and to the future of our planet. Thank you.
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