Speaking bluntly on the international stage on World Environment Day, President Barack Obama said this morning that the world has to “make some tough decisions” to forestall the “potentially cataclysmic disaster” of global warming. Obama made the remarks during a press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Dresden, Germany before traveling to the Buchenwald concentration camp. Obama made it clear he believes the Waxman-Markey clean energy legislation will allow the United States to to retake the lead on global warming:
In terms of climate change, ultimately the world is going to need targets that it can meet. It can’t be general, vague approaches. We’re going to have to make some tough decisions and take concrete actions if we are going to deal with a potentially cataclysmic disaster. And we are seeing progress in Congress around energy legislation that would set up for the first time in the United States a cap and trade system. That process is moving forward in ways that I think if you had asked political experts two or three months ago would have seemed impossible. So I’m actually more optimistic than I was about America being able to take leadership on this issue, joining Europe, which over the last several years has been ahead of us on this issue.
Continuing, Obama explained that the “large carbon footprints” of the United States and Europe — 25 tons of greenhouse gases per person and 10.6 tons respectively — make it difficult to convince the developing world to take action:
As I told Chancellor Merkel, unless the United States and Europe, with our large carbon footprints, per capita carbon footprints, are willing to take some decisive steps, it’s going to be very difficult for us to persuade countries that on a per capita basis at least are still much less wealthy, like China or India, to take the steps that they’re going to need to take in controlling carbon emissions. So we are very committed to working together and hopeful that we can arrive in Copenhagen having displayed that commitment in concrete ways.
China and India’s carbon footprints, by way of contrast, are 5.7 and 2.2 tons of carbon-dioxide-equivalent per person, according to the Yale Environmental Performance Index.