links about us archives search home
SustainabiliTankSustainabilitank menu graphic

Follow us on Twitter


Posted on on September 23rd, 2009
by Pincas Jawetz (

 beth.herzfeld at

to pjawetz

Agreement on a fair, ambitious and binding deal in Copenhagen in December is still at risk in spite of announcements that indicate a growing move towards science-based emissions cuts by Japan and China.

Unfortunately, US President Barak Obama’s first address to the UN was strong on rhetoric but devoid of either content or commitment. Obama failed to seize the day and he failed to answer the question of what the US will bring to the table in Copenhagen.

President Obama’s speech did not mention the key issues that are stalling international negotiations: he failed to offer specifics about financial support for developing countries to adapt to and mitigate climate change. Nor did he offer US mid term targets. Obama did not even reiterate his pledge to keep global temperature rise to below 2 degrees C or his previous commitment to reduce US greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050.

By contrast Chinese President Hu Jintao announced that China will cut CO2 per unit of GDP by a ‘notable margin’ below 2005 levels by 2020. This, along with China’s earlier announcements and actions, demonstrates that China is willing to do its fair share.

Japan’s new government has emerged as a leader in a weak pack of industrialised countries – countries that for many years have been competing to see who could do the least to avoid climate chaos. While Japan’s recent commitment to reduce its emissions by 25% by 2020 (below 1990 levels) falls short of what is needed and there are no details yet as to how it will be achieved, it is an example of the kind of leadership that is missing from the climate talks.

Together China and Japan’s announcements challenge Obama to increase US commitments. Cuts of at least 25% (below 1990 levels) by 2020 are needed from the US, and a minimum of  USD56 billion annually to help developing countries adapt to climate change, to end deforestation and switch to clean energy is required.

With just one day’s pause, the next key opportunity for Heads of State to break the impasse on progress towards reaching a strong climate deal in Copenhagen comes at the G20 meeting in Pittsburgh, where climate finance is on the agenda.

Danish Prime Minister Rasmussen’s call to Heads of State to go to Copenhagen underlines the fact that the engagement of world leaders doesn’t end here. Over the next ten weeks they must play a key leadership role to ensure a binding agreement that will put the world on the path to avoiding catastrophic climate change

Greenpeace is calling on people everywhere to join the global movement to make world leaders aware that we are watching, we are demanding and we are expecting them to put aside their differences, to come together and agree a climate saving deal in December.

Martin Kaiser
Climate & Energy Campaign
Greenpeace International

Stephanie Tunmore, Greenpeace International Communications, in New York:

+ 1 202 286 4824

+ 44 7796 947 451


Obama Climate speech’s tepid reception


Barack Obama
Play Video ABC News
– Obama Calls on Developing Nations to Step Up

UN Climate Talks
AP – President Barack Obama speaks at the summit on climate change at the United Nations headquarters in New York.

Josh Gerstein Josh Gerstein – Tue Sep 22, 11:28 am ET
President Barack Obama’s closely watched climate change speech at the United Nations got a mixed reaction Tuesday: Some world leaders saluted his rhetoric, but environmental activists expressed disappointment that he didn’t commit to a timeline to pass cap-and-trade legislation in the Senate.

“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,” Obama told fellow heads of state gathered for a climate change summit called by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

“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,” Obama said. “One committee has already acted on this bill in the Senate, and I look forward to engaging with others as we move forward.”

Many diplomats and environmentalists were hoping that Obama would detail his strategy to move House-approved carbon-emissions-trading legislation through the Senate and onto his desk to be signed into law ahead of a key climate change conference this December in Copenhagen. But the president made only a vague pledge to continue pushing for the measure.

“The Obama speech was a missed opportunity,” said Annie Petsonk, international counsel for Environmental Defense Fund. “Leaders want him to lay out a game plan to get a bill through the Senate, to give some timeline, some commitment to do it on a timely basis. … They didn’t get it.”

Environmental activists are particularly concerned that U.S. influence and leadership in the climate issue are dwindling ahead of Copenhagen, with the issue of global warming getting pushed further and further down the presidential agenda by other pressing concerns, such as health care reform, the recession and Afghanistan.

Former Vice President Al Gore gave a warm, but not effusive, reception to Obama’s remarks.

“I thought that he was simply recognizing the reality of the situation that this legislation is still pending,” Gore said at a U.N. press briefing. “I welcome his promise to get personally engaged in the work of the Senate committees.”

Gore said it would be “far better” for the climate change treaty talks set for Copenhagen in December if the U.S. Senate acted by then.

“I would encourage the Senate to take up the climate and energy legislation immediately upon conclusion of the pending health care debate, if not before,” Gore said. “I interpret President Obama’s statement about getting involved in that process to mean that he will urge them to do exactly that.”

Asked about the decision not to set a timeline, White House climate czar Carol Browner said the Senate’s pace was not under Obama’s control. “The Senate is hard at work,” Browner said. “Health care has obviously taken up more time than was originally anticipated. … At the end of the day, [Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid does set the schedule for the Senate, and we have to be mindful of that.”

Obama said little about the resistance in the Senate but indicated the recent economic slump has left some lawmakers reluctant to impose emissions changes that could affect a weakened economy.

“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,” Obama said. “But I’m here today to say that difficulty is no excuse for complacency. Unease is no excuse for inaction.”

The president insisted his administration has taken a series of important, groundbreaking actions to fight global warming, such as increasing fuel economy standards and directing stimulus funds and tax credits to energy efficiency.

“These steps represent an historic recognition on behalf of the American people and their government,” he said. “We understand the gravity of the climate threat. We are determined to act. We will meet our responsibility to future generations.”

Be Sociable, Share!

Leave a comment for this article