President Obama on Tuesday declared the U.S. will lead the world in the fight against climate change but also served notice to China and other developing countries that they won’t be let off the hook.
Speaking at a United Nations climate conference in New York City, the president again cast climate change as a moral issue, saying the planet must be saved from irreparable damage and preserved for future generations.
Mr. Obama’s words came in conjunction with new executive action Tuesday requiring all federal departments and agencies to factor in climate change when building new facilities or working on other projects overseas.
But for all this White House has done in its war against global warming — such as dramatically limiting emissions from power plants and raising auto fuel efficiency standards — Mr. Obama said it simply isn’t enough. He told developing nations that even as they strive for economic growth, they should ignore the example set by the U.S. for more than a century and forgo the use of coal and other “dirty” fuels.
“This is hard. But there should be no question the United States of America is stepping up to the plate. We recognize our role in creating this problem. We embrace our responsibility to combat it. … But we can only succeed in combating climate change if we are joined in this effort by every nation, developed and developing alike,” the president said. “Nobody gets a pass. The emerging economies that have experienced some of the most dynamic growth in recent years have also emitted rising levels of carbon pollution. It is those emerging economies that are likely to produce more and more carbon emissions in the years to come. So nobody can stand on the sidelines on this issue.”
The U.S. remains the world’s No. 2 polluter, though domestic greenhouse gas emissions have been cut significantly in recent years.
The emissions of China and India, however, continue to rise.
Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli told the U.N. conference Tuesday that his nation also is committed to addressing global warming and plans to soon bend its emissions curve downward.
“We will announce post-2020 actions on climate change as soon as we can to markedly reduce carbon intensity. … We will also try to bring about the peaking of total CO2 emissions as soon as possible,” Mr. Zhang said, adding that China also will provide aid to other developing nations struggling with horrific poverty while also reining in emissions.
Some specialists say the vice premier’s words are encouraging and could demonstrate that China and the U.S. could be effective partners moving forward.
“The strong back-to-back statements by the two largest emitters send a clear signal that both countries will work seriously to put in place climate solutions domestically and reach an ambitious international agreement in Paris next year,” said Jennifer Morgan, director of the Climate and Energy Program at the World Resources Institute.
At the 2015 Paris climate conference, Mr. Obama and his international allies will push for a global agreement — perhaps a formal treaty — that will commit all nations to specific carbon emissions reduction goals.
Tuesday’s U.N. summit, and China’s promises in particular, may have raised expectations for next year’s event, especially within the environmental community.
But critics argue there’s still no guarantee that China, India and other nations truly will follow the U.S. lead, nor is it clear they take the problem as seriously as Mr. Obama.
While Mr. Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron and other world leaders attended and addressed the summit, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi did neither.
Both governments instead sent lower-ranking officials, leading critics to charge that China and India aren’t yet ready to buy into the Obama administration’s climate agenda.
“Other foreign leaders recognize the importance of affordable, reliable energy to move their nations forward,” said Laura Sheehan, senior vice president for communications at the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, an outspoken opponent of the president’s climate change and energy policies.
Mr. Xi’s and Mr. Modi’s “absence at the U.N. talks speaks volumes to the president’s misprioritized agenda and his complete disregard for the challenges of America’s working families and still-struggling economy,” she added.
In addition to the climate resilience requirement, the White House on Tuesday also launched a new public-private partnership aimed at making existing climate data available all over the world.
The administration also said the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will expand existing programs to train meteorologists from other countries and better educate them about climate change.