Obama: U.S. part of climate problem, but all nations need to work on it

Watch President Barack Obama’s speech at Tuesday’s U.N. Climate Summit. “The climate is changing faster than our efforts to address it,” he said.

Updated at 2:15 p.m. EDT | NEW YORK — President Barack Obama said at the U.N. Climate Summit on Tuesday that the United States accepts responsibility for its part in climate change and will lead the way in doing something about it.

The U.S., which is the second largest greenhouse gas emitter after China, has made progress in reducing carbon emissions and will set new targets to cut even more, he said. The U.S. government is working with African entrepreneurs on clean-energy projects, farmers to improve agricultural practices and other partners to reduce methane emissions.

“We recognize our role in creating this problem; we embrace our responsibility to combat it,” the president said.

He also encouraged other nations to do their part. “We have to set aside the old divides.”

China’s Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli spoke after President Obama, saying China recognizes that it needs to respond to climate change “to achieve sustainable development at home.”

Gaoli said China is working on meeting its own targets of reducing carbon emissions by 40-45 percent from 2005 levels by 2020. He said the country of 1.36 billion people will participate in next year’s Paris conference aimed at negotiating the next international climate agreement.

Some interests will be suspicious that any climate-related commitments will put the United States at an economic disadvantage, said President Obama, but the U.S. must continue to lead the way in a global effort for making improvements.

It was his first U.N. speech since the U.S. military and its Arab allies launched airstrikes against Islamic State  fighters in Syria overnight, and he alluded to the terrorist threat in his remarks.

“For all the immediate challenges that we gather to address this week — terrorism, instability, inequality, disease — there’s one issue that will define the contours of this century more dramatically than any other, and that is the urgent and growing threat of a changing climate,” Mr. Obama said.

A National Climate Assessment released in May detailed the adverse effects of climate change, including hotter and drier weather, more flooding and receding sea ice. The study was written by a federal advisory group with members from NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and other federal agencies.

Thousands of activists marched in New York City on Sunday to protest fossil fuels and demand action of world leaders on climate change. “It is time for them to declare — with concrete steps — how they’ll reduce the damages we’re already enduring from climate change,” said Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Several leaders at the summit, which involved more than 120 U.N. member states, spoke about the need to act without delay. “Droughts and floods cost my country about $200 million a year,” said President Hifikepunye Pohamba of Namibia.

Trinidad and Tobago’s Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar called net zero emissions by the end of the century an “attainable goal” that all nations must aspire to before it’s too late.

Erna Solberg, prime minister of Norway, sounded a positive note: “The good news is we have the necessary means at hand,” including new technologies.

President Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj of Mongolia spoke about how climate change was affecting land users in his country: “If you have any question that climate change is happening, ask herdsmen.”

The reporting from New York was supported in part by the U.N. Foundation’s press fellowship program.

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