Obama Wants Swift Action on Climate
COPENHAGEN, Denmark - President Barack Obama told the United Nations conference on climate change today that "there is no time to waste" in the battle against the warming of the planet.
Obama arrived in Copenhagen at 9:01 a.m. this morning (3:01 a.m. ET) for a long day of public and private talks on climate change as a two-week United Nations conference heads toward an uncertain conclusion.
"Our ability to take collective action is in doubt right now," Obama said. With many world leaders skeptical of U.S. intentions, he said he came to the conference "not to talk, but to act."
"The question is whether we will move forward together, or split apart," Obama said in brief remarks at a morning plenary session. "This is not a perfect agreement. No country will get everything that it wants."
"The time for talk is over. This is the bottom line: we can embrace this accord, take a substantial step forward, continue to refine it and build upon its foundation. We can do that, and everyone who is in this room will be a part of an historic endeavor, one that makes life better for our children and grandchildren.
"Or we can choose delay, falling back into the same divisions that have stood in the way of action for years. And we will be back having the same stale arguments month after month, year after year, perhaps decade after decade, all while the danger of climate change grows until it is irreversible.
"Ladies and gentlemen, there is no time to waste. America has made our choice. We have charted our course, we have made our commitments, we will do what we say. Now, I believe that it's the time for the nations and the people of the world to come together behind a common purpose.
"We are ready to get this done today, but there has to be movement on all sides, to recognize that it is better for us to act than to talk."
The arrival of Obama and other heads of state gave an air of anticipation to the talks, which have stalled over differences between the United States and China, as well as divisions between wealthy and impoverished nations. There was some talk Friday of extending the talks into the weekend in hopes of reaching at least a non-binding, political agreement on greenhouse gas emissions.
The president was greeted by four inches of snow, with more expected, on a day devoted to the issue of global warming. He immediately went into a meeting with 20 heads of state from nations rich and poor, including China, India, Russia, Japan, Britain, France, Germany, Ethiopia and Bangladesh. The session delayed the morning plenary session until early afternoon.
Obama, who's having enough trouble trying to hold 60 Senate Democrats together on health care, faces a far more difficult challenge here. Nearly 200 countries are represented in the contentious talks, headed by Danish Prime Minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen.
"The time to act is now," Rasmussen said this morning. "Global warming knows no border. It does not discriminate. It simply affects us all."
Brazilian President Luiz Lula da Silva said he was "a little bit frustrated" by inaction. His country's commitment to hit new emission targets by 2020, he said, will cost $166 billion. "It's not an easy task."
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged delegates to exercise "common sense, compromise and courage" by agreeing on targets to reduce the heat-trapping greenhouse gasses that are warming the planet.
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said "China takes climate change very seriously" and boasted of the steps his nation has taken to reduce global warming, including setting new targets without conditions. "We will honor our word with real action," he said, to wide applause.