Obama To Presidential Hopefuls: You’re Going To Need To Deal With Climate Change

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development Centre, in Paris, on Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2015. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/EVAN VUCCI
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development Centre, in Paris, on Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2015. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/EVAN VUCCI

President Obama sent a hopeful message to the U.N. climate talks Tuesday before he left Paris.

Speaking to the press, Obama said that coming to an agreement in Paris won’t be easy — “getting 200 nations to agree on anything is hard” — but that he was confident in the process. And, Obama said, it wasn’t just Paris he was confident about.

“Climate change is a massive problem. It’s a generational program. It’s a problem that by definition is just about the most difficult thing for a political system to absorb,” he said. “And yet despite all that the main message I’ve got is, I actually think were gonna solve this thing.”

Obama cited the progress the world had already made on climate change as reason for his optimism, including the fact that nearly 200 countries had shown up in Paris with fairly ambitious agreements and the fact that the price of generating solar energy had dropped so dramatically in the last five years.

The president has been in Paris since Sunday, the night before the talks officially began. The talks, which will continue through December 11, are aimed at getting world leaders to agree to a commitment that will help get the world on track to limit warming to 2°C. The Paris climate talks won’t get the world all the way there — something Obama acknowledged during his speech — but they’re meant as a major first step towards ameliorating climate change. Obama noted the need to continue to update the pledges that countries make in Paris, so that progress continues to be made towards the 2°C goal.

Some — particularly Congressional Republicans and some presidential candidates — have questioned the point of going to Paris to develop a climate deal, and have even pledged to undermine any deal that is made. Presidential candidate Carly Fiorina said Sunday that she thought the likelihood of countries coming to a lasting agreement to tackle climate change is “near zero,” and thus she didn’t think the talks were “very productive.”

Obama addressed these detractors Tuesday, speaking specifically to presidential hopefuls.

“The fact of the matter is there’s a reason why you have the largest gathering of world leaders probably in human history here in Paris. Everybody else is taking climate change really seriously. They think it’s a really big problem,” he said. “I think the president of the United States is going to need to think this is really important.”

Obama emphasized that action on climate change is a major part of American leadership. We don’t need to wait for other countries to act, he said; when the U.S. and other major emitters like China act, it gives other countries the confidence to act as well. He also said that focusing on climate change, even in the face of additional threats like ISIS, is key, because climate change is an underlying threat that, if not addressed now, will only take more and more of the country’s resources.

“This one trend, climate change, affects all trends,” he said. “If we let the world keep warming as fast as it is, and sea levels rising as fast as they are, and weather patterns shifting in more unexpected ways, before long were going to have to devote more and more economic resources not to growing opportunities for our people, but to adapting to the various consequences of a changing planet.”

And, Obama said, one way of tackling climate change would be to put a price on carbon.

“I’ve long believed that the most elegant way to drive innovation and to reduce carbon emissions is to put a price on it,” he said.

Other world leaders also called for a price on carbon in Paris this week. The heads of France, Canada, Germany, Chile, Mexico, and Ethiopia, as well as leaders from the Wold Bank and other groups, met Monday to discuss the benefits of a carbon tax.

“We simply cannot afford to continue polluting the planet at the current pace,” World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim said. “Carbon pricing is critical for reducing emissions, preserving our environment and protecting the most vulnerable.”