Obama Offers Few Details in Climate Speech

POLITICS

Perhaps the most interesting thing about President Barack Obama’s climate change speech at the United Nations is what he didn’t say. (Politico)

Use our resources to learn more about climate change.

This infographic is a great way to visualize ways to conserve and cut carbon emissions, a leading contributor to climate change. Chart by Juan Velasco, National Geographic

This infographic is a great way to visualize ways to conserve and cut carbon emissions, a leading contributor to climate change.
Chart by Juan Velasco, National Geographic

Discussion Ideas

  • President Barack Obama spoke at the United Nations summit on climate change in New York on Tuesday. Is this the first time the UN has held a major conference on climate change and the environment?
    • Far from it. In fact, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) meets very consistently on an international and regional level. Here are some of the major summits and treaties the UN has helped develop around climate change.
      • The first “Earth Summit” (United Nations Conference on the Human Environment) was held in Stockholm, Sweden, in 1972.
      • The first World Climate Conference was held in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1979. Although not organized by the UN, it led to the founding of the World Climate Programme (WCP), a UN partnership organization.
      • The Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer was adopted in Vienna, Austria, in 1985. Read more about the Vienna Convention here. An important part of this treaty, the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, was adopted in 1987.
      • The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) first met at UN Headquarters in New York City, New York, in 1988. The IPCC and former U.S. Vice President Al Gore won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007. Read more about that here.
      • The second World Climate Conference was held in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1990.
      • The second Earth Summit (United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED)) was held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1992.
      • The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) was founded in Bonn, Germany, in 1997. An important part of this treaty, the Kyoto Protocol, was adopted in 1997 in Kyoto, Japan. Read more about the Kyoto Protocol here.
      • The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development was held in Johannesburg, South Africa, in 2002. Read more about “Rio+10” here.
      • The third World Climate Conference was held in Geneva, Switzerland, in 2009.
      • The second Conference on Sustainable Development, nicknamed “Rio+20”, was held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 2012.

 

  • What is the anticipated outcome of the UN summit on climate change?
    • Not much, in terms of practical goals or agreements. “Tuesday’s climate summit was never expected to produce a global climate agreement,” according to Politico, “and it was not a negotiating session. But U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon encouraged leaders and private-sector officials to ‘bring bold new announcements and action” to the gathering.'”

 

  • The Politico article says President Obama did not make any firm promises or commitments in his speech at the UN summit. What are some reasons why he didn’t?
    • Politicians have to balance short-term and long-term domestic and international responsibilities when crafting foreign policy. They must also consider what is practical—what technology, human resources, and economics are available? Finally, they must work ensure the policy is followed through after he or she leaves office.
      • Domestic Responsibilities
        • President Obama, a Democrat, can’t really commit to any treaty or agreement that his colleagues in Congress won’t approve. And Congress has blocked much environmental legislation. “House Republicans, who have voted dozens of times to block EPA regulations, aren’t likely to green-light billions of dollars” to offset climate change, according to Politico.
      • International Responsibilities
        • The U.S. is not the only major polluter on the planet. American politicians are reluctant to enter into binding agreements unless countries such as China and Russia are held to similar standards.
        • The process for making sure developing nations are not hindered in their economic development by international protocols has not been established. Watch this animated video for a good outline of the problem.
        • To help address the issue, many developed nations have pledged to put $100 billion per year into a “green climate fund,” designed to help developing countries invest in clean energy as their economies grow. That’s a big commitment.

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