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Obama’s First UN Speech – Climate Change!

September 23, 2009
Broc Obama, from elephantjournal.com

Broc Obama, from elephantjournal.com

It’s Climate Week in NYC, bringing together 100 world leaders for the highest level discussion on climate change ever and laying the ground work for the even bigger Copenhagen Climate Conference known as COP15.

The big guns are all here making headlines: Obama’s first UN speech is at this conference, sharing the US’s climate progress and promises with the world:

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. Across America, entrepreneurs are constructing wind turbines and solar panels and batteries for hybrid cars with the help of loan guarantees and tax credits — projects that are creating new jobs and new industries. We’re investing billions to cut energy waste in our homes, buildings, and appliances — helping American families save money on energy bills in the process.

HuffPo has a transcript of the full speech, which continues to outline recent proposals to create national policy on fuel economy and the House’s recent climate bill, and to call for urgent international action to address climate change. According to Mark Mardell’s BBC liveblog of the conference, “polite and pretty brief applause follows.” Is this the mark of a room full of dignitaries from around the world, so different from the US’s standing ovations or screaming townhalls that greet the President and his policies when addressing the homefront? Or, in the midst of managing economic turmoil, a politically and bureaucratically complicated health care reform, and the growing critique of foreign wars, is climate change just not at the top of the Obama agenda in a way that he can dedicate the full power of his intellect and will to addressing it here and now? Reading the speech wasn’t quite as rousing a call to action as I’d hoped. Regardless, his commitment to the environment and to basic science, outstrips Bush’s by several lightyears, so at least there isn’t the US obstacle to the international will to get this done.

And then there’s China. Hu Jin Tao came to the conference, representing the largest population and the 800-pound gorilla as  far as climate change and issues of development go. A quickly growing nation with over 1 billion consumers who are slated to go for first-world consumption patterns in, oh, about as much time as we have to reduce emissions for the survival of the planet. A perfect storm (possibly literally)! Top that with a lot of hand-wringing about  hypocrisy; can wealthy nations ethically deny the fruits of development to the citizens of China, when their own citizens  – including corporations and other entities – may be unwilling to make the sometimes daunting sacrifices necessary to slow climate change?

Well, President Hu vowed to commit to climate change. According to the BBC:

China will increase efforts to improve energy efficiency and curb the rise in CO2 emissions, President Hu Jintao has told a UN climate summit in New York. Mr Hu gave no details about the measures, which should mean emissions grow less quickly than the economy.

If Obama and Hu can sign on with vows (still words, not actions) to make a measurable difference, we’re still looking at an entirely different landscape from a few years ago, and we’re that much closer to protecting our planet.

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