Obama To World: Days Of U.S. Climate Inaction 'Are Over' : The Two-Way If part of President Barack Obama's mission today as the chair of the energy and climate change forum at the G-8 meeting in L'Aquila, Italy, was to send the message that the U.S. is under new management that cares about global warming, that messag...
NPR logo Obama To World: Days Of U.S. Climate Inaction 'Are Over'

Obama To World: Days Of U.S. Climate Inaction 'Are Over'

President Barack Obama speaks about climate change Thursday, July 9, 2009, during the G8 Summit in L'Aquila, Italy. AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari hide caption

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AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari

If part of President Barack Obama's mission today as the chair of the energy and climate change forum at the G-8 meeting in L'Aquila, Italy, was to send the message that the U.S. is under new management that cares about global warming, that message was sent loudly and clearly.

Obama said:

We also agree that developed countries, like my own, have a historic responsibility to take the lead. We have the much larger carbon footprint per capita. And I know that in the past the United States has sometimes fallen short of meeting our responsibilities, so let me be clear: Those days are over.

To show that it just wasn't all talk, he shared with the other leaders attending the event the progress the U.S. has made since he took office:

One of my highest priorities as president is to drive a clean- energy transformation of our economy, and over the past six months, the United States has taken steps towards this goal. We've made historic investments in the billions of dollars in developing clean- energy technologies. We're on track to create thousands of new jobs across America on solar initiatives and wind projects and biofuel projects, trying to show that there is no contradiction between environmentally sustainable growth and robust economic growth.

We've also for the first time created a national policy raising our fuel efficiency standards that will result in savings of 1.8 billion barrels of oil over the lifetime of vehicles sold in the next five years alone. And we just passed in our House of Representatives the first climate change legislation that would cut carbon pollution by more than 80 percent by 2050.

These are very significant steps in the United States. They're not as far as some countries have gone, but they are further than others. And I think that as I wrestle with these issues politically in my own country, I've come to see that it is going to be absolutely critical that all of us go beyond what's expected if we're going to achieve our goals.

Part of his mission was also to express empathy with developing nations, Those nations like India, China and Mexico feel they're being unfairly asked by their already-developed counterparts to sacrifice their own development for the sake of the Earth.

Obama said:

Each of our nations comes to the table with different needs, different priorities, different levels of development. And developing nations have real and understandable concerns about the role they will play in these efforts. They want to make sure that they do not have to sacrifice their aspirations for development and higher living standards. Yet with most of the growth in projected emissions coming from these countries, their active participation is a prerequisite for a solution.

Of course, the president lauded the progress made at this week's talks:

Today at the Major Economies Forum, developed and developing nations made further and unprecedented commitments to take strong and prompt action. Developed nations committed to reducing their emissions in absolute terms, and for the first time developing nations also acknowledged the significance of the 2 degrees Celsius metric and agreed to take action to meaningful lower their emissions relative to business as usual in the midterm, in the next decade or so. And they agreed that between now and Copenhagen they will negotiate concrete goals to reduce their emissions by 2050.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies has a helpful assessment by Sarah Ladislaw of what was achieved in these G-8 climate discussions.

Ladislaw notes, as did Obama, that the participants acknowledged the goal of keeping the global temperature from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius by 2050.

Some other of Ladislaw's observations:

The U.S. Congress, having recently passed energy and climate legislation in the House and currently debating legislation in the Senate, was anxious to see how their efforts were received by the international community. G-8 and MEF participants continue to applaud the United States for its markedly different stance and improved level of engagement over the previous administration. Many Europeans and major developing countries, however, wish to see deeper midterm emissions reductions than exist in current U.S. legislation.

On the U.S. side, some lawmakers will view the absence of an agreement on long-term reduction targets as part of am MEF agreement as an indication of China and India's unwillingness to take aggressive action on climate change. Others will see it as a concrete sign that the United States and other developed countries must work to take more aggressive domestic action and show greater leadership.

As it relates to the UN Conference of Parties meeting this December in Copenhagen, the results of this summit indicate a strong amount of political momentum and consensus building among the world's major emitters. Although the Copenhagen meeting is only six months away, it was premature to expect any major breakthroughs on contentious issues like developing country targets for emissions reduction or financing of developing country efforts by the developed countries. The MEF declaration indicates that major emitters are focused on ways to concretely improve on the national policies and measures designed to reduce emissions and encourage clean energy development and bolster greater investment and cooperation in transformational energy technologies.