L'AQUILA, ITALY, July 9, 2009 -- President Obama today pledged a strong U.S. role in global efforts to curb climate change and called upon his fellow attendees of the Major Economies Forum on Climate Change to work in the coming months to come up with commitments to lessen greenhouse gases.
"In the past, the United States has sometimes fallen short of meeting our responsibilities," regarding climate change, Obama told the leaders of 16 other leading economies, but added, "those days are over."
"As I wrestle with these issues politically in my own country, I've come to see that it is going to be absolutely critical that all of us go beyond what's expected if we're going to achieve our goals," the president told fellow attendees.
"While we don't expect to solve this problem in one meeting or in one summit, I believe we've made some important strides forward," Obama said.
But like the Group of Eight industrialized nations Thursday, the MEF today committed to nothing more than non-binding goals.
For instance, the MEF acknowledged the presiding scientific view that the increase in global average temperature above preindustrial levels ought not to exceed 2 degrees Celsius, but described no concrete steps the attendees would take to prevent a rise of more than 2 degrees from happening.
The leaders of many developing nations, including India and China, have balked at the "robust aggregate and individual reductions" in greenhouse gases that the MEF Declaration called for countries to implement before the December United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Copenhagen.
U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern noted that developing nations have never before committed -- even in principle -- to taking steps to make meaningful reductions in greenhouse gases between now and 2050. Nor have they, he said, acknowledged the consensus that the global temperature should not rise by more than 2 degrees.
The president said the group had "made a good start, but I'm the first one to acknowledge that progress on this issue will not be easy." He called upon his colleagues to "fight the temptation toward cynicism, to feel that the problem is so immense that somehow we cannot make significant strides."
"It is no small task for 17 leaders to bridge their differences on an issue like climate change," he said. "We each have our national priorities and politics to contend with, and any steps we agree to here are intended to support and not replace the main U.N. negotiations with more than 190 countries."
Asked why the president felt the need to underline times when the United States had fallen short of its responsibilities, Stern said the United States has a "historic responsibility" for emissions that are already in the atmosphere.
"It's valuable to recognize where we've come up short and also to recognize that it's a new day now," he said.
Obama Calls on World Leaders to Assist Developing Nations
To alleviate the concerns of developing nations that restrictions on the emission of greenhouse gases would harm their economies, the MEF Declaration called upon industrialized nations to recognize an "immediate need to assist the poorest and most vulnerable to adapt" to climate change, pledging financial assistance and technologies. The group announced the formation of a Global Partnership "to drive transformational low-carbon, climate-friendly technologies."
"Developing nations have real and understandable concerns about the role they will play in these efforts," Obama said today, because those countries don't want to "sacrifice their aspirations for development and higher living standards."
But those countries must participate, he said, because "most of the growth in projected emissions" will be theirs. "Every nation on this planet is at risk," he said.
Obama heralded the work his administration has done on the issue, mentioning "historic investments in the billions of dollars in developing clean-energy technologies," the creation of a national policy raising U.S. fuel-efficiency standards, and passage last month in the House of Representatives of "the first climate change legislation that would cut carbon pollution by more than 80 percent by 2050."
He said developed countries like the U.S. have a responsibility to take the lead on fighting climate change because they have a larger carbon footprint per capita.
"The science is clear and conclusive, and the impacts can no longer be ignored," Obama said. "Ice sheets are melting. Sea levels are rising. Our oceans are becoming more acidic, and we've already seen its effects on weather patterns, our food and water sources, our health and our habitats."
Lula Digs Obama on U.S. Soccer Loss to Brazil
Earlier today Obama met with Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, and climate change and energy were at the top of the agenda.
Lula told Obama that when it comes to climate change, Brazil wants to be with the G-8 nations in committing to a bold strategy to reduce greenhouse gases. But he said the sticking point for Brazil, like other developing countries, is the issue of technology transfers to provide the latest green technology -- solar and wind energy and cleaner fuels -- to aid their efforts to help the environment without harming their already fragile economies.
Obama and Lula also discussed the situation in Honduras, the global economy and Iran. According to the White House, Obama told Lula that the relationship Brazil has with Iran provides a "unique opportunity" to underscore the message G-8 nations approved last night about Iran's responsibilities in the international community.
At the end of their meeting, Lula razzed Obama about the U.S. soccer team's loss to Brazil last month in the Confederations Cup soccer championship.
Chatting with the president in Portuguese in remarks overheard by reporters, Lula spoke enthusiastically about the match, repeatedly using Obama's catch phrase "Yes we can."
The underdog U.S. squad shocked the soccer world by opening up a 2-0 lead in the first half of the June 28 match in Johannesburg, South Africa, but the scorching Brazilian offense came alive after the break and got on the board with a goal just one minute into the second half. Brazil rallied and found the back of the net two more times en route to a 3-2 victory, crushing the American hopes for an upset win, which would have been the most significant US soccer victory ever.
Lula even presented President Obama with a soccer jersey signed by the team -- the No. 5 jersey of Felipe Melo, a defensive midfielder who also plays for Fiorentina in the Italian League.
"Hey, look at this," the president said. "Beautiful. Alright, wonderful. I like that."
Later the president, who played soccer as a boy growing up in Indonesia, gave his take on the loss.
"You know I was a little frustrated, but Brazil's a pretty good team," the president told reporters. "I told them, 'we're not gonna give up a two goal lead.'"
"It actually was a pretty light moment," said White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs.