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Obama urges swift action on climate

From Athena Jones
NEW YORK -- Calling climate change an urgent, serious problem requiring bold action, President Obama asked representatives from countries around the world to join together to combat it.

Promoting the development of clean energy is one of the Obama administration's top agenda items. The president touted U.S. efforts to reduce greenhouse gases and develop new technologies even as he declared the issue a global challenge that could not be solved by one or two countries.

"Our generation's response to this challenge will be judged by history, for if we fail to meet it -- boldly, swiftly, and together -- we risk consigning future generations to an irreversible catastrophe," the president said in brief remarks before a packed General Assembly hall at the U.N. Climate Change Summit. "No nation, however large or small, wealthy or poor, can escape the impact of climate change."

He said rising sea levels, more powerful storms and floods, more frequent droughts and crop failures threatened every country's security and stability and that time was running out to address the issue. Obama quoted John F. Kennedy, a frequent source of inspiration in his speeches, saying  "Our problems are man-made, therefore they may be solved by man." 

Repeating a favorite theme, the president said his administration had done more to promote clean energy and lower carbon pollution in the last eight months "than at any other time in our history." He said his administration had made the largest ever investment in renewable energy and had proposed the first ever national policy to increase fuel economy and reduce greenhouse gas pollution for all new cars and trucks.

Obama hailed the passage of an energy bill by the House and said he looked forward to seeing one come out of the Senate and said that at the G-20 meeting in Pittsburgh later this week, he would work with other leaders on an agreement to phase out fossil fuel subsidies that exacerbate climate change.

But there is growing concern that countries will not be able to reach a comprehensive agreement on emissions goals at their meeting in Copenhagen in December. Obama said making progress on the matter would not be easy, especially in the midst of a global recession, and acknowledged that leaders could face questions at home about any agreements they reach.

"As we head towards Copenhagen, there should be no illusions that the hardest part of our journey is in front of us," he said. "But I'm here today to say that difficulty is no excuse for complacency; unease is no excuse for inaction and we must not allow the perfect to become the enemy of progress."

He called on leaders to "seize the opportunity" to make the winter meeting Copenhagen a "significant step forward" in the world'd battle agstt climate change.

The hope is that the United States and China, two of the world's biggest polluters, will take the lead on setting meaningful emissions targets in order to help spur developing countries, whose leaders argue such limits could restrict growth at home.

Obama said richer countries have a responsibility to provide the financial and technical help to developing countries -- many of them already hurt by famine,  drought and conflict over scarce resouces -- to combat the effects of climate change and take steps to slow it while spurring sustainable growth.

"These nations do not have the same resources to combat climate change as countries like the United States or China do, but they have the most immediate stake in a solution," he said. "Their future is no longer a choice between a growing economy and a cleaner planet, because their survival depends on both.

Monday's summit, which U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon presided over, began with remarks from actor Djimon Hounsou, who appeared in such films as Amistad and Gladiator, and a brief spoken word performance from a group of youth, urging world leaders to act on the issue of climate change.

Among those on hand for the speech were Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, UN Ambassador Susan Rice and Chinese President Hu Jintao -- with whom the president is set to meet later today. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad -- a much-watched figure at meetings like these -- was not spotted, nor were major world leaders like French President Nicolas Sarkozy or German Chancellor Angela Merkel.