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Obama Addresses Climate Change in U.N. Speech

BY Tom LeGro  September 22, 2009 at 10:34 AM EDT

President Obama addresses the U.N. Climate Change Summit; Photo by Jim Watson/AFP/Getty

In his first United Nations speech, President Obama said the United States understands “the gravity of the climate threat. We are determined to act. And we will meet our responsibility to future generations.”

Hear President Obama’s full speech:

Some 100 world leaders have convened at the U.N. for the highest-level conference yet on climate change amid doubt that an international accord on global warming can be reached this year.

The U.N. summit and the G-20 summit in Pittsburgh at the end of this week are intended to add pressure on the United States and other rich nations to commit to cuts and provide the billions of dollars needed to help developing nations stop cutting down their forests or burning coal.

“I am proud to say that the United States has done more to promote clean energy and reduce carbon pollution in the last eight months than at any other time in our history,” President Obama told the U.N. “We’re making our government’s largest ever investment in renewable energy – an investment aimed at doubling the generating capacity from wind and other renewable resources in three years.”

President Obama already announced a target of returning to 1990 levels of greenhouse emissions by 2020. Todd Stern, the top U.S. climate envoy, told the Associated Press that the Obama administration is moving “full speed ahead” toward helping craft a global climate deal.

“Later this week, I will work with my colleagues at the G-20 to phase out fossil fuel subsidies so that we can better address our climate challenge,” President Obama told the U.N.”And already, we know that the recent drop in overall U.S. emissions is due in part to steps that promote greater efficiency and greater use of renewable energy.”

Although attention will be focused on President Obama, the most substantial changes may come from what the presidents of China, India and other major economies spell out for billions of people and their households, businesses and farms in the decades ahead.

The United States and China, the biggest greenhouse gas polluters, are stuck on issues such as how much aid rich nations should give poor ones to deal with climate change and how much industrialized economies should pledge to reduce emissions.

“We must also energize our efforts to put other developing nations – especially the poorest and most vulnerable – on a path to sustainable growth,” President Obama told the U.N. “These nations do not have the same resources to combat climate change as countries like the United States or China do, but they have the most immediate stake in a solution….That is why we have a responsibility to provide the financial and technical assistance needed to help these nations adapt to the impacts of climate change and pursue low-carbon development.”

China and the United States each account for about 20 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas pollution created when coal, natural gas or oil are burned. The European Union is next, generating 14 percent, followed by Russia and India, which each account for 5 percent.

However, some political leaders said they were optimistic that China’s President Hu Jintao will offer new initiatives in his speech — also on Tuesday — that will create momentum.

Hu is expected to lay out new plans for extending China’s energy-saving programs and targets for reducing the “intensity” of its carbon pollution — carbon dioxide emission increases as related to economic growth.

The House of Representatives has approved climate-change legislation backed by President Obama. The Senate has yet to act.

More than 190 nations are negotiating an accord to replace the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which set emissions limits on industrialized countries that expire in 2012. Neither the United States nor China is part of the Kyoto agreement. China is exempt as a developing country. The United States under PresidentGeorge W. Bush rejected the pact over concern that it would harm the economy and because lawmakers objected that China wasn’t included.