Obama: Climate Action Is America’s Duty

As the House gears up vote against his climate agenda, Obama says America will act.

President Obama speaks during a news conference at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development Centre in Paris on Tuesday. Obama discussed the COP21 climate-change summit, and the threat of terrorism from the Islamic State.
AP Photo/Evan Vucci
Rebecca Nelson and Jason Plautz
Add to Briefcase
Rebecca Nelson Jason Plautz
Dec. 1, 2015, 9:34 a.m.

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.”

What We're Following See More »
Heller, Paul Won’t Vote on Motion to Proceed
19 minutes ago
CBO Says 22 Million More Would Be UNinsured
2 hours ago

The Senate bill "would increase the number of people without health insurance by 22 million by 2026, a figure that is only slightly lower than the 23 million more uninsured that the House version would create. Next year, 15 million more people would be uninsured compared with current law...The legislation would decrease federal deficits by a total of $321 billion over a decade."

SCOTUS Delivers a Victory for Gay Couples
2 hours ago

"The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday ruled in favor of same-sex couples who complained that an Arkansas birth certificate law discriminated against them, reversing a state court’s ruling that married lesbian couples must get a court order to have both spouses listed on their children’s birth certificates."

Revised Senate Bill Would Add Penalty for Going Uninsured
4 hours ago
58 House Republicans Ask Ginsburg to Recuse on Travel Ban
4 hours ago

The letter reads in part, "There is no doubt that your impartiality can be reasonably questioned; indeed, it would be unreasonable not to question your impartiality. Failure to recuse yourself from any such case would violate the law and undermine the credibility of the Supreme Court of the United States.” Ginsburg said last year, "He is a faker. He has no consistency about him. He says whatever comes into his head at the moment. He really has an ego."


Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.