WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama said Sunday that American leadership was helping make gains in the global fight against climate change as he tried to reassure world leaders assembling for a historic conference in Paris that the U.S. can deliver on its own commitments.
Obama was joining more than 150 leaders for the opening days of a two-week conference where countries are trying to negotiate an agreement aimed at avoiding a calamitous increase in global temperatures.
“What makes this gathering different is that more than 180 nations have already submitted plans to reduce the harmful emissions that help cause climate change, and America’s leadership is helping to drive this progress,” Obama said in a Facebook posting hours before his scheduled late-night arrival in the French capital.
“Our businesses and workers have shown that it’s possible to make progress toward a low-carbon future while creating new jobs and growing the economy,” he wrote. “Our economic output is at all-time highs, but our greenhouse gas emissions are down toward 20-year lows.”
The goal in Paris, he said, was a long-term framework for more reductions, with each nation setting targets that other countries can verify. Leaders also will try to support “the most vulnerable countries” in expanding clean energy and “adapting to the effects of climate changes that we can no longer avoid.”
He said he was “optimistic about what we can achieve because I’ve already seen America take incredible strides these past seven years.”
At the summit’s opening Monday, Obama was to join French President Francois Hollande and philanthropist Bill Gates for an announcement about an initiative to spend billions of dollars over the next five years on developing clean energy technology, a French official and a former U.S. official told The Associated Press.
They were not authorized to publicly discuss details before the announcement and spoke on condition of anonymity. The U.S., France, India, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Australia, Canada and Norway have decided to participate, according to the French official.
Eager to leave a legacy of environmental protection, Obama scheduled meetings with the leaders of China and India to underscore how developing nations are embracing the effort to combat climate change. Also on the agenda were sessions with the leaders of a few island nations, to highlight “the existential challenge” they face from rising sea levels, in the words of the president’s deputy national security adviser, Ben Rhodes.
Obama, with just a year left in office, wants to lead the world by example on climate change. But he faces pushback at home that makes it harder for him to credibly make the case on the world stage that the U.S. will honour its promises.
The U.S. is the world’s second largest climate polluter, surpassed only by China, and the president has pledged that the U.S. will cut its overall emissions by 26 per cent to 28 per cent by 2030.
But his climate action plan has run into stiff opposition from Republicans who control Congress. They say his commitment to reduce emissions from U.S. power plants would cost thousands of American jobs and raise electricity costs for businesses and families.
Half the states are suing to block the power plant rules, claiming Obama has abused his authority under the Clean Air Act. The president also faces congressional opposition to committing U.S. dollars to a U.N. Green Climate Fund designed to help poorer countries combat climate change.
Adele Morris, a climate and energy expert at the Brookings Institution, said all the turmoil at home “makes it a challenge rhetorically, at least, for the U.S. to commit significantly to the targets that it’s announced.”
Associated Press writers Sylvie Corbet, Seth Borenstein and Karl Ritter in Paris contributed to this report.
Follow Nancy Benac on Twitter at http://twitter.com/nbenac