President Barack Obama urged 151 world leaders Monday to reach a landmark deal to curb global warming “before it dooms the planet.” In the opening session of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, Obama said “I come here personally as the leader of world’s biggest economy and second biggest emitter to say that America not only acknowledges its role in climate change but embraces doing something about it.”
The president said that the next few weeks could mark a turning point in efforts to limit global temperature increases. He said that “climate change could define the contours of this century more than any other (problem).” But, he was realistic about how tough the battle would be. “One of the enemies we will be fighting at this conference,” Obama said “is cynicism–the notion we can’t do anything about climate change.”
In his speech, Obama said that he saw “the effects of climate change first hand in Alaska, where the sea is already swallowing villages and eroding shorelines” and “where glaciers are melting at a pace unprecedented in modern times.” He said Alaska is a preview of “one possible future.”
“We know the truth, that many nations have contributed little to climate change,” Obama said, “but will be the first to feel its most destructive effects. For some island nations, climate change is a threat to their very existence,” he warned.
Obama huddled on the sidelines with China’s President Xi Jinping. The two men previously reached an agreement to drastically reduce carbon emissions—the first such agreement made by China. Obama said nowhere had coordination with Beijing been more critical or fruitful than on climate change. U.S. and Chinese leadership has been credited with leading 180 nations to make their own pledges to curb emissions in the run-up to the Paris talks. “Our leadership on this issue has been absolutely vital,” Obama said.
Xi, speaking through a translator, said that global worries made it even more important for the U.S. and China to work together. “The world economy is recovering slowly, terrorism is on the rise, and climate change is a huge challenge,” Xi told reporters. “There is more instability and uncertainty in international situations,” the Chinese president added.
The goal of the conference is to reach an accord for reducing man-made greenhouses gases, the major cause of global warming. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said that negotiators had only days to finalize an agreement. He said that when the conference ends, he wants to be able to say “our mission is accomplished.” U.N. climate chief Christina Figueres said in her opening remarks that “never before has a responsibility so great been in the hands of so few. The world is looking to you.”
Meanwhile, Republicans in Congress tried to block the president and the U.S. diplomats from even attending the conference. They tried to block funding to pay their expenses, including security for the president. That effort rightfully failed. But Republicans are serious about blocking funding to allow the United States to implement any agreement reached at the conference.
Republicans are the beneficiaries of tens of millions in campaign contributions from the fossil fuel industry and the Koch Brothers. The Kochs plan on spending $900 million dollars this coming election to elect Republicans who deny the existence of Climate Change and refuse to do anything about it. According to Open Secrets.com, in the last two election cycles, the oil and gas industry gave an average of $90 million in contributions to candidates for Congress and 90% of that money went to Republicans.
On top of campaign contributions, the fossil fuel industry spends tens of millions a year lobbying Congress. Some of that money goes to perks for the members of Congress and their families including foreign trips. Lobbyists can’t pay for congressional trips. They launder the money through so-called educational organizations that they set up, and those “fronts” pay for the trips. The result of this is that Republicans have blocked all climate legislation and are suing the administration to block regulations enacted by the EPA. Some see a quid pro quo.
If an accord is reached, the Senate will not need to ratify it because it is not a Treaty and not binding. Consequently, a Republican president could and would just refuse to follow it. For this reason, climate may become an issue in the 2016 elections. Stay tuned.