Obama tells UN: “The security and stability of each nation and all peoples “ our prosperity, our health, our safety “ are in jeopardy,” will work “at the G20 to phase out fossil fuel subsidies,” pledges U.S. action on “slashing our emissions to reach the targets we set for 2020 and our long-term goal for 2050.”

President Obama’s speech on the urgent need for climate action is reprinted in full below with comments and supporting links.  Obama’s blunt remarks should give heart to all climate science realists — at home and abroad — that he will in fact bring all of his political and rhetorical skills to bear on passing climate and clean legislation in the next several months.

UPDATE:  Here is a speech clip.  I’ll post a full clip when it’s up.

Obama fully understands the catastrophic risk to future generations — and to our generations moral legacy:

Good morning.  I want to thank the Secretary-General for organizing this summit, and all the leaders who are participating.  That so many of us are here today is a recognition that the threat from climate change is serious, it is urgent, and it is growing.  Our generation’s response to this challenge will be judged by history, for if we fail to meet it – boldly, swiftly, and together – we risk consigning future generations to an irreversible catastrophe.

No nation, however large or small, wealthy or poor, can escape the impact of climate change.  Rising sea levels threaten every coastline.  More powerful storms and floods threaten every continent.  More frequent drought and crop failures breed hunger and conflict in places where hunger and conflict already thrive.  On shrinking islands, families are already being forced to flee their homes as climate refugees.  The security and stability of each nation and all peoples – our prosperity, our health, our safety – are in jeopardy.  And the time we have to reverse this tide is running out.

In short, we face Hell and High Water.

And yet, we can reverse it.  John F. Kennedy once observed that “Our problems are man-made, therefore they may be solved by man.”  It is true that for too many years, mankind has been slow to respond to or even recognize the magnitude of the climate threat.  It is true of my own country as well.  We recognize that.  But this is a new day.  It is a new era.  And 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.

No question about that (see here).  Obama clearly understands the clean energy opportunity:

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.  We’ve proposed the very first national policy aimed at both increasing fuel economy and reducing greenhouse gas pollution for all new cars and trucks – a standard that will also save consumers money and our nation oil.  We’re moving forward with our nation’s first offshore wind energy projects.  We’re investing billions to capture carbon pollution so that we can clean up our coal plants.  Just this week, we announced that for the first time ever, we’ll begin tracking how much greenhouse gas pollution is being emitted throughout the country.  Later this week, I will work with my colleagues at the G20 to phase out fossil fuel subsidies so that we can better address our climate challenge. 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.

See “”EIA projects wind at 5% of U.S. electricity in 2012, all renewables at 14%, thanks to Obama stimulus!” and “EIA stunner: By year’s end, we’ll be 8.5% below 2005 levels of CO2 “” halfway to climate bill’s 2020 target.

Most importantly, the House of Representatives passed an energy and climate bill in June that would finally make clean energy the profitable kind of energy for American businesses and dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  One committee has already acted on this bill in the Senate and I look forward to engaging with others as we move forward.

I guess he means the Senate energy committee….

Because no one nation can meet this challenge alone, the United States has also engaged more allies and partners in finding a solution than ever before.  In April, we convened the first of what have now been six meetings of the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate here in the United States.  In Trinidad, I proposed an Energy and Climate Partnership for the Americas.  We’ve worked through the World Bank to promote renewable energy projects and technologies in the developing world.  And we have put climate at the top of our diplomatic agenda when it comes to our relationships with countries from China to Brazil; India to Mexico; Africa to Europe.

Taken together, these steps represent an historic recognition on behalf of the American people and their government.  We understand the gravity of the climate threat.  We are determined to act.  And we will meet our responsibility to future generations.

But though many of our nations have taken bold actions and share in this determination, we did not come here today to celebrate progress.  We came because there is so much more progress to be made.  We came because there is so much more work to be done.

It is work that will not be easy.  As we head towards Copenhagen, there should be no illusions that the hardest part of our journey is in front of us.  We seek sweeping but necessary change in the midst of a global recession, where every nation’s most immediate priority is reviving their economy and putting their people back to work.  And so all of us will face doubts and difficulties in our own capitals as we try to reach a lasting solution to the climate challenge.

But difficulty is no excuse for complacency.  Unease is no excuse for inaction.  And we must not allow the perfect to become the enemy of progress.  Each of us must do what we can when we can to grow our economies without endangering our planet – and we must all do it together.  We must seize the opportunity to make Copenhagen a significant step forward in the global fight against climate change.

We also cannot allow the old divisions that have characterized the climate debate for so many years to block our progress.  Yes, the developed nations that caused much of the damage to our climate over the last century still have a responsibility to lead.  And we will continue to do so – by investing in renewable energy, promoting greater efficiency, and slashing our emissions to reach the targets we set for 2020 and our long-term goal for 2050.

But those rapidly-growing developing nations that will produce nearly all the growth in global carbon emissions in the decades ahead must do their part as well.  Some of these nations have already made great strides with the development and deployment of clean energy.  Still, they will need to commit to strong measures at home and agree to stand behind those commitments just as the developed nations must stand behind their own.  We cannot meet this challenge unless all the largest emitters of greenhouse gas pollution act together.  There is no other way.

We must also energize our efforts to put other developing nations – especially the poorest and most vulnerable – on a path to sustainable growth.  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.  For these are the nations that are already living with the unfolding effects of a warming planet – famine and drought; disappearing coastal villages and the conflict that arises from scarce resources.  Their future is no longer a choice between a growing economy and a cleaner planet, because their survival depends on both.  It will do little good to alleviate poverty if you can no longer harvest your crops or find drinkable water.

Notice how he links China to the U.S. and separates the country from other developing nations.

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.

What we are seeking, after all, is not simply an agreement to limit greenhouse gas emissions.  We seek an agreement that will allow all nations to grow and raise living standards without endangering the planet.  By developing and disseminating clean technology and sharing our know-how, we can help developing nations leap-frog dirty energy technologies and reduce dangerous emissions.

As we meet here today, the good news is that after too many years of inaction and denial, there is finally widespread recognition of the urgency of the challenge before us.  We know what needs to be done.  We know that our planet’s future depends on a global commitment to permanently reduce greenhouse gas pollution.  We know that if we put the right rules and incentives in place, we will unleash the creative power of our best scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs to build a better world.  And so many nations have already taken the first steps on the journey towards that goal.

But the journey is long.  The journey is hard.  And we don’t have much time left to make it.  It is a journey that will require each of us to persevere through setback, and fight for every inch of progress, even when it comes in fits and starts.  So let us begin.  For if we are flexible and pragmatic; if we can resolve to work tirelessly in common effort, then we will achieve our common purpose:  a world that is safer, cleaner, and healthier than the one we found; and a future that is worthy of our children.  Thank you.

Hear!  Hear!

Related Post:

25 Responses to Obama tells UN: “The security and stability of each nation and all peoples “ our prosperity, our health, our safety “ are in jeopardy,” will work “at the G20 to phase out fossil fuel subsidies,” pledges U.S. action on “slashing our emissions to reach the targets we set for 2020 and our long-term goal for 2050.”

  1. Jamihl Aghmad says:

    Obama tells UN: “The security and stability of each nation and all peoples – our prosperity, our health, our safety – are in jeopardy.

    No kidding. Accumulated cyclone energy is incredibly low. Not a sign of warming. it seems the takeover of private sector is the cause of instability.

  2. Obama blew it, I don’t know what Joe Romm is celebrating. There is no stirring rhetoric, no call to arms. Obama could have stepped through the door of leadership and asked everyone else to follow with him. He could have made concrete commitments in excess of all other nations, and challenged other nations to meet or beat. He didn’t. Standard politician’s speech with a lot of words and no action.

    [JR: Not sure which speech you saw, but this was Obama’s call to arms. Please find another speech by a U.S. president that is comparable. And what precisely would be the point of making commitments that are not politically feasible? This speech was a statement that he intends to push hard for Senate passage of a climate and clean energy bill. If he succeeds, it will be the greatest environmental and clean energy achievement in US history.]

  3. New York Times ‘Green Inc.’ just tweeted ‘Obama Calls for Climate Action at UN’. Yes, they are all ‘calling for action’. None of them are TAKING action!

    [JR: Quoting a tweet? Seriously? This was a landmark speech, and assuming a bill ends up on Obama’s desk next year, it will be seen as such. And by the way, under Obama, the United States has taken more action on climate change and clean energy than any other US president by far. Try reading the links and following the news.]

  4. Rockfish says:

    He can’t promise anything with the ball-and-chain of Congress to contend with.
    Sure, the rhetoric is nice, but yet again Obama seems to think that all he has to do is be “not Bush” and everything will be OK. That’s not enough.
    At least everyone is ratcheting down the rhetoric. The perfect is no longer the enemy of the good, and soon the good will no longer be the enemy of the barely adequate, followed by the barely adequate no longer being the enemy of feeble lip-service.
    People are now talking about being lucky to even get a “framework” in Copenhagen. One thing’s for sure, whatever the world manages to accomplish will be with no help from our pathetic government.

    [JR: No. Given that for eight years the United States was not unsupportive of international action but it was actually impeding it, we’ve only been able to engage in serious international negotiations for several months. Nobody I know ever thought we would have a complete deal out of Copenhagen.

    But if there is a US climate bill there will be a serious global deal, and it will give us a fighting chance to avert the worst. Far better than the alternative.]

  5. Giove says:

    Slightly off-topic, sorry: I think the Atlantic is weird this September

    1) I am concerned that the equatorial atmosphere is not discharging energy in space this season through hurricanes, although if I am not wrong sea surface temperatures reached a record this summer (however it is very good for people living on the coast). If you look at satellites, an enormous amount of energy is being sucked up directly to the Artic … entire weather systems have gone north.

    2) The above lets me think that the sea ice cover minimum for this year could still be lower than it is now.. right now, it seems to have reached it. I expect a surprise, a delayed slump in ice cover, but i am no expert..

    3) As long as decent sized ice caps are there, there is not going to be an enormous warming. If the heat exchange becomes less efficient because of less ice surface exchanging heat with air and ocean, then and only then the full thermal effects will be felt .. and it won’t be pretty. So I guess that glacial balance is the best indicator of the global energetic balance that we have now.

    4) Hope I am wrong. I would like to read comments from some expert on this strange September.

  6. Rick says:

    Obama hurts the cause in the long term by exaggerating the current situation.

    That will come back to bite him. Storms aren’t happening and the sea level stuff is also not happening – at least not yet.

  7. Giove says:

    When the big, undeniable changes will happen .. it will probably be too late to stop them because they could be be fast, furious and largely irreversible using “gentle” means, like planting trees.
    Ice carrots show changes happening in a VERY short time (how short? I think scientists cannot really see the exact duration of climate events and/or the speed of associated mid-latitude consequences.. a few years? months?)

    Basically its like drink driving, who drives in that state always thinks he can control the car… and when he realizes he cannot it is usually because there is a wall 1 yard ahead, and coming close fast. It is hard to convince then not to drive beforehand ..

  8. Rick Covert says:

    Here’s what I experienced in Texas with the frequency of killer hurricanes. I evacuated once in 1980 from a catagory 4 hurricane called Allen in Corpus Christi and again in 1988 from a catagory 5 storm named Gilbert when it looked like it would hit the Texas coast. Like bookends of the 1980’s that was the experience I went through with hurricane Alicia in Houston as an apostrophe. in the 2000’s I evacuated Houston when another catagory 4 hurricane named Rita looked like it was going to devestate Houston and then again in 2008 when Ike actually hit Houston dead on. The frequency of these killer storms has increased in so far as my necessity to evacuate is concerened.

    The time for waiting, delay and inaction is over.

  9. Ben says:


    It is hard to know if storms are increasing or not. There is a lot of noise in the signal. In a decade, we may be able to understand what is happening now. But another decade of waiting will lead to increasing problems later.

    The “sea level stuff” is not happening because of the delay in the signal. Emissions now lead to warming later, which leads to the gradual and unstoppable sea level rise of the future. Look at the science and try to understand it. What we are seeing now is just the beginning of the earth system response.

    I think it is a good speech. I don’t know how many government officials will absorb the message, but the overall rhetoric and message is one that we have been in desperate need of for a very long time.

  10. jcwinnie says:

    Well, at least he wore a nice tie and a nice pin.

  11. Rockfish says:

    Apologies Joe.
    You’ve got way too much work to do running a truly first class site to waste time batting back all the snarky comments we lob at you!
    Keep up the great work.

  12. pete best says:

    Trillions of dollars of global infrastructure change are required and if there is enough alternative energy available in a 40 year time line then it has to start soon. Howevr in the short terms a lot of this climate agenda will be offsets until we have the strategy in place to deploy the technology required to mitigate climate change. We would be better off having cuts of around 5% but its more than likely to be 2% and not guaranteed even if renewables energy is as cost effective as fossil fuels.

    Energy demand is growing by 2-3% per annum and if we can meet that growth and cut demand through efficiency gains and deploy new technology to cut into existing emissions then fine.

    Its a massive long haul though but someone will get a job out of it.

  13. Adam Sacks says:

    “JR: Not sure which speech you saw, but this was Obama’s call to arms. Please find another speech by a U.S. president that is comparable. And what precisely would be the point of making commitments that are not politically feasible? This speech was a statement that he intends to push hard for Senate passage of a climate and clean energy bill. If he succeeds, it will be the greatest environmental and clean energy achievement in US history.”

    Joe, sure, let’s pass all those bills, but I find your ongoing optimism and faith in our governing process difficult to understand. We were just as enthusiastic about environmental legislation in 1969 and thereafter – and while certainly some things got cleaned up, in the aggregate the environment is in much worse shape today (not the least of which is that we exported our toxics to our own poor communities and third-world countries). The regulatory system has given us everything from mountaintop removal to toxic landfills and mine tailings to factory farms, and far far more. It was not designed for environmental protection, it was designed for corporate protection, and it works very well.

    [JR: That which was regulated has improved. Anyone expecting president Obama to solve all of the nation’s and world’s environmental problems was doomed to be very disappointed. Jeez, he hasn’t even been in office a full year!]

    While it is painful to acknowledge that governance and the economics that demand unsustainable growth cannot, simply cannot, act in sustainable ways (as in, pigs can’t fly), the sooner we do that the sooner we’ll get to thinking in ways that can address reality. To “grow our economies without endangering our planet” is a physical impossibility, in violation of the laws of nature – but who wants to understand ecology, it’s so inconvenient . . .

    And one other problem with Obama’s speech – he insists on framing climate as a problem to be visited on our children. While that’s certainly bad enough, global climate disruption is here now, tipping points have already tipped, the suffering is on our shores as well as in third-world countries, and his goals fall so far short of the demands of physical reality (which trumps that oxymoron, “political reality,” every time) that they’re little more than bandaids.


  14. Sasparilla says:

    Its good to see the president giving the speech, for those of us that know what needs to be done, its difficult to swallow since we know its not nearly enough…but we’ve got to start somewhere – frankly, we’ll be lucky to get what’s been talked about in US legislation as there are alot of very rich powerful interests that are doing everything they can to derail it.

    Regading Giove’s comment on Hurricanes, the Pacific El Nino which started later this summer dampens Hurricane formation in the Atlantic by making the upper atmosphere environment inhospitable to their formation and strengthening – at least that is what I understand.

  15. Col says:

    Great speach. Tony Blair’s using another angle though:

    Cutting emissions will increase global GDP, says Tony Blair

  16. Giove says:

    Thank you for your answer.

    If I understand well , lack of tropical cyclones means also a diminished transport of heat to the stratosphere and less dissipation to space. So is more heat trapped in El Nino condition, increasing transport of heat to the polar areas?

    Also, is that the reason why there was (or at least I read it on Internet) a 60 cm stable ocean surge on east coast beaches this summer, which has been attributed to a strengthened oceanic current?

  17. Jeff Green says:

    After GW suppression from the Bush administration this is a breath of fresh air. Here’s hoping for 7 more years of Obama.

  18. Jeff Green says:

    If this were an easy thing to do, this climate change thinking would of happened a long time ago. It is dragging on because it is hard. Getting movement and the big players on board is what is needed. The laws can modified as we go in smaller bundles.

  19. “Obama hurts the cause in the long term by exaggerating the current situation.”

    Actually, he said that they are threats to the entire world, not necessarily that they are currently happening. Note the word “threaten.”

    There is only one sentence where he uses the word “already” to say that it is currently happening: “On shrinking islands, families are already being forced to flee their homes as climate refugees.”

    and there he is quite right:

    “Global Warming: Rising Seas creates 70,000 Climate Refugees

    Rising seas attributed to human induced global warming have submerged Lohachara island, once the home to 10,000 people. Unhinhabited Suparibhanga has also vanished, while the inhabited island of Ghoramara has lost two thirds of its area to the rising seas in the Bay of Bengal.”

  20. Phil Eisner says:

    We are so fortunate Obama was elected!! I listened to his speech this morning and he said the right words; he indicated he well understood the global warming situation and most of its politics. Now he must also impress our senators! Solving the global warming problem, which is intricately intertwined with energy needs and global economics, will be hard and will take many, many years, if not decades. Meanwhile the weather continues its erratic progress toward more warmth; our politicians will continue their erratic progress toward enlightenment; and I will continue my modest contribution to educating the public while I hold my breath waiting for progress lowering CO2 emissions worldwide.

  21. David B. Benson says:

    Slightly off-topic:
    A gas turbine generates about 70% of the CO2 that a coal burner does for the same output. A wind turbine in a Tier 1 location runs about 30% of the time. Using a gas turbine as backup for the wind power, one has only 49% of the CO2 as produced by burning coal. But much better can be obtained.
    Burning the methane in pure oxygen produces a exhaust stream containing only water, CO2 and a little O2. Run through a condenser to remove most of the water, the resulting gas stream is ready for compression and removal to a sequestration site. There are extra power costs, primarily to obtain the pure oxygen stream, but also pumping costs at the end. Using a combined cycle gas turbine ups the power produced but in addition, wind power could be used to obtain the pure oxygen, when available, and compressed into a storage tank. Similarly, wind power could be used for some of the exhaust pumping and compression. This way, other an the CO2 produced during manufacture, the result is 0% CO2 into the air, carbon neutral. But one can now do still better.
    Produce biomethane (at about the same cost as natural gas). Burn a mixture of biomethane and natural gas, the more biomethane, the better. In any case, the result is now carbon negative, removing CO2 from the air.
    Some part of the Department of Energy is working on a oxy-fuel gas turbine, but work is going rather slowly due to lack of funding. Help to change that, please.

  22. paulm says:

    China takes first step towards climate deal by commiting to carbon target

    With less than 11 weeks to go to the final round of climate talks in Copenhagen, the UN chief, Ban Ki-Moon did not bother to hide his frustration in his opening remarks. “The world’s glaciers are now melting faster than human progress to protect them — or us,” he said. Others shared his gloom. “Today we are on a path to failure,” said France’s Nicolas Sarkozy.

  23. Bill R says:

    It’s just my gut feeling at this point, but watching the health care logjam, and watching congress work at this point is extremely disconserting when I ponder the scale of the effort necessary to do something like get our atmosphere under the 350 ppm that Hansen is talking about.

    I’m currently in the position of thinking that there is dissonance between how Obama functions when he gives “speeches” and the way the man sees goverment and getting things done legislatively. I’m more impressed with the former than the latter. It may too be that the latter is not wholly his fault; that money and special interests are so entrenched that it is literally impossible to craft a bill based on science and best policies… only possible to create sausage that has a little bit of pork for everyone… a few useless carbon credits here, a few “carbon sequestration” coal plants there, etc. etc.

    I will keep making noise, but I’m holding my breath on this administration…

    [JR: So far, considering that Obama has achieved more on clean energy investment and greenhouse gas reductions than every previous administration combined, I can see why you are disappointed….]

  24. Mike#22 says:

    Obama is THE gamechanger.

  25. Yesterday Bill McKibben weighed in on Obama’s speech via a piece he wrote for Mother Jones. Here’s the opening paragraph:

    “For those of us who care desperately about the climate, President Obama’s speech on Tuesday—the first to the world body by this most admired of world leaders—was a dud, a towering disappointment. Coming at the beginning of what the UN has dubbed “climate week,” the speech marked the beginning of a three-month push towards the global climate conference at Copenhagen. Obama used it mostly to downplay expectations. And it’s those downplayed expectations that may prove to be tragically self-fulfilling.”

    You can read the piece, titled, “Obama on Climate: Is He Even Trying?” in its entirety here:

    I agree with Joe that Obama is a sea change from George Bush and has already done more in 9 months than some Presidents do in their first term.

    The problem is, that’s not good enough to meet the challenge we face.
    Being 100 times better than George W Bush isn’t the standard here.
    There is political reality and then there is unfiltered reality like climate change that doesn’t care who you voted for.

    I agree with Bill McKibben and frankly I do not think President Obama rose to the occasion this week at the UN. I’m sorry if that’s expecting too much, but my expectations are driven by the CO2 numbers, not the poll numbers.

    I read another piece today on that quoted you, Joe Romm, and it laid out pretty clearly why I agree with Bill McKibben.

    Headlined, “CLIMATE CHANGE: Time Running Out on Vows to Act, Scientists Warn” the article makes the case that we are not responding to climate change in ways that will avoid catastrophic impacts. That includes the President’s response and his speech at the UN I’m afraid.

    One of the voices that helps make that point most strongly in the piece is Joe Romm’s. Here are the closing two paragraphs of the article:

    “By 2020, climate change will be a transcendent issue in the U.S., but it might be too late,” Romm warned.

    When IPS pointed out that delaying significant reductions until 2020 means carbon concentrations in the atmosphere could soar from the current 387 parts per million (ppm) to a very dangerous 550 ppm or more by 2100, Romm replied: “If you understand the U.S. political system, there is no way you can be optimistic that we won’t get to 800 ppm or 1,000.”