Barack Obama Speech at the UN Copenhagen Climate Change Conference

Delivered 18 December 2009, Copenhagen, Denmark

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Good morning. // It is an honor for me / to join this distinguished group of leaders from nations around the world. // We come here in Copenhagen / because climate change poses a grave and growing danger to our people. // All of you would not be here unless / you — like me — were convinced / that this danger is real. // This is not fiction, / it is science. // Unchecked, climate change / will pose unacceptable risks / to our security, our economies, and our planet. // This much we know. //


The question, then, before us is / no longer the nature of the challenge. // The question is our capacity to meet it. // For while the reality of climate change is not in doubt, / I have to be honest, / as the world watches us today, / I think our ability to take collective action is in doubt right now, / and it hangs in the balance. //


I believe we can act boldly, and decisively, / in the face of a common threat. // That’s why I come here today / — not to talk, but to act. //


Now, as the world’s largest economy / and as the world’s second largest emitter, / America bears our responsibility to address climate change, / and we intend to meet that responsibility. // That’s why we’ve renewed our leadership / within international climate change negotiations. // That’s why we’ve worked with other nations / to phase out fossil fuel subsidies.


That’s why we’ve taken bold action at home / — by making historic investments in renewable energy; / by putting our people to work increasing efficiency in our homes and buildings; / and by pursuing comprehensive legislation / to transform to a clean energy economy.


These mitigation actions are ambitious, / and we are taking them not simply to meet global responsibilities. // We are convinced, / as some of you may be convinced, / that changing the way we produce and use energy / is essential to America’s economic future / — that it will create millions of new jobs, / power new industries, / keep us competitive, / and spark new innovation. // We’re convinced, for our own self-interest, / that the way we use energy, / changing it to a more efficient fashion, / is essential to our national security, / because it helps to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, / and helps us deal with some of the dangers posed by climate change. //


So I want this plenary session to understand. // America is going to continue on this course of action / to mitigate our emissions and / to move towards a clean energy economy, / no matter what happens here in Copenhagen. // [We think] it is good for us, / as well as good for the world. // But [we also believe] that we will all be stronger, / all be safer, / all be more secure / if we act together. // That’s why [it is in our] mutual [interest] / to achieve a global accord / in which we agree to certain steps, / and to hold each other accountable to certain commitments. //


After months of talk, / after two weeks of negotiations, / after innumerable side meetings, / bilateral meetings, / endless hours of discussion among negotiators, / [I believe] that the pieces of that accord / should now be clear. //


First, / all major economies / must put forward decisive national actions / that will reduce their emissions, / and begin to turn the corner on climate change. // I’m pleased / that many of us have already done so. // Almost all the major economies / have put forward legitimate targets, / significant targets, / ambitious targets. // And [I’m confident] that America will fulfill the commitments that we have made: / cutting our emissions in the range of 17 percent by 2020, / and by more than 80 percent by 2050 / in line with final legislation. //


Second, / we must have a mechanism to review / whether we are keeping our commitments, / and exchange this information in a transparent manner. // These measures need not be intrusive, / or infringe upon sovereignty. // [They must, however, ensure] that an accord is credible, / and that we’re living up to our obligations. // Without such accountability, / any agreement would be empty words on a page. //


I don’t know how you have an international agreement / where we all are not sharing information / and ensuring that we are meeting our commitments. // That doesn’t make sense. // It would be a hollow victory. //


Number three, / we must have financing / that helps developing countries adapt, / particularly the least developed / and most vulnerable countries to climate change. America / will be a part of fast-start funding / that will ramp up to $10 billion by 2012. // And yesterday, / Secretary Hillary Clinton, my Secretary of State, / made it clear that we will engage in a global effort / to mobilize $100 billion in financing by 2020, / if — and only if — / it is part of a broader accord that I have just described. //


Mitigation. / Transparency. / Financing. // It’s a clear formula — / one that embraces the principle of common but differentiated responses / and respective capabilities. // And it adds up to a significant accord — / one that takes us farther than we have ever gone before / as an international community. //


I just want to say to this plenary session / that we are running short on time. // And at this point, / the question is / whether we will move forward together / or split apart, / whether we prefer posturing to action. // I’m sure / that many consider this an imperfect framework that I just described. // No country will get everything that it wants. // There are those developing countries / that want aid with no strings attached, / and no obligations with respect to transparency. // They think / that the most advanced nations should pay a higher price. // I understand that. // There are those advanced nations who think / that developing countries either cannot absorb this assistance, / or that will not be held accountable effectively, / and that the world’s fastest growing emitters / should bear a greater share of the burden. //


We know the fault lines / because we’ve been imprisoned by them for years. // These international discussions / have essentially taken place now for almost two decades, / and we have very little to show for it / other than an increased acceleration of the climate change phenomenon. // 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 part of a historic endeavor — / one that makes life better for our children and our 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] 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; / it’s better for us to choose action over inaction; / the future over the past / — and with courage and faith, / [I believe] that we can meet our responsibility to our people, and the future of our planet. // Thank you very much. //