Climate change was on the agenda as U.S. President Barack Obama visited Australia today, just eleven days before the start of the next United Nations Climate Change Conference in Durban, South Africa.
President Obama mentioned climate change during his speech before the Australian Parliament this morning:
And we need growth that is sustainable. This includes the clean energy that creates green jobs and combats climate change, which cannot be denied. We see it in the stronger fires, the devastating floods, the Pacific islands confronting rising seas. And as countries with large carbon footprints, the United States and Australia have a special responsibility to lead.
Every nation will contribute to the solution in its own way -- and I know this issue is not without controversy, in both our countries. But what we can do -- and what we are doing -- is to work together to make unprecedented investments in clean energy, to increase energy efficiency, and to meet the commitments we made at Copenhagen and Cancun. We can do this, and we will.
He also responded to a reporter's question about U.S. climate policy during a press conference with Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard:
Mark Riley - 7 News, Australia: Mr. President, I wanted to ask you about the other rising giant of our region -- India -- and the Prime Minister might like to add some comments. How significant is it for the U.S. that Australia is now considering selling uranium to India? And could you clear up for us what influence or encouragement your administration gave Australia as it made that decision? And also, the decision is so India can produce clean energy. In that regard, you're aware that our Parliament has passed a new bill, pricing carbon -- a carbon tax, if you like. But we're intrigued about where America is going on this issue.
And countries like Australia don’t see a carbon trading system in the world working unless America is a big part of it. Can you tell us, is it your wish that American will have an emissions trading scheme across the nation within the next five years or so? How heavily do you want to see America involved in an emissions trading scheme globally, or has this become too politically hard for you?
Barack Obama: Well, first of all, with respect to India, we have not had any influence, I suspect, on Australia’s decision to explore what its relationship in terms of the peaceful use of nuclear energy in India might be. I suspect that you’ve got some pretty smart government officials here who figured out that India is a big player, and that the Australia-India relationship is one that should be cultivated. So I don’t think Julia or anybody else needs my advice in figuring that out. This is part of your neighborhood, and you are going to make bilateral decisions about how to move forward.
I think without wading into the details, the discussions that are currently taking place here in Australia around that relationship and the nuclear issue with India are ones that are compatible with international law, compatible with decisions that were made in the NPT. And I will watch with interest what’s determined. But this is not something between the United States and Australia; this is something between India and Australia.
With respect to carbon emissions, I share the view of your Prime Minister and most scientists in the world that climate change is a real problem and that human activity is contributing to it, and that we all have a responsibility to find ways to reduce our carbon emissions.
Each country is trying to figure out how to do that most effectively. Here in Australia, under the leadership of the Prime Minister, you’ve moved forward with a bold strategy. In the United States, although we haven’t passed what we call a cap-and-trade system, an exchange, what we have done is, for example, taken steps to double fuel efficiency standard on cars, which will have an enormous impact on removing carbon from the atmosphere.
We’ve invested heavily in clean energy research. We believe very strongly that we’ve improved efficiencies and a whole step range of steps that we can meet and the commitments that we made in Copenhagen and Cancun. And as we move forward over the next several years, my hope is, is that the United States, as one of several countries with a big carbon footprint, can find further ways to reduce our carbon emissions. I think that’s good for the world. I actually think, over the long term, it’s good for our economies as well, because it’s my strong belief that industries, utilities, individual consumers -- we’re all going to have to adapt how we use energy and how we think about carbon.
Now, another belief that I think the Prime Minister and I share is that the advanced economies can’t do this alone. So part of our insistence when we are in multilateral forum -- and I will continue to insist on this when we go to Durban -- is that if we are taking a series of step, then it’s important that emerging economies like China and India are also part of the bargain. That doesn’t mean that they have to do exactly what we do. We understand that in terms of per capita carbon emissions, they’ve got a long way to go before they catch up to us. But it does mean that they’ve got to take seriously their responsibilities as well.
And so, ultimately, what we want is a mechanism whereby all countries are making an effort. And it’s going to be a tough slog, particularly at a time when the economies are -- a lot of economies are still struggling. But I think it’s actually one that, over the long term, can be beneficial.