US President Barack Obama has attacked political leaders who do not take climate change seriously, saying that they are “not fit to lead” and make up “their own shrinking island.”
In a speech in Alaska at the end of an 11-day tour of the US which has promoted renewable energy, championed solar and called for action on climate change, Obama’s comments appeared pitched at domestic politics, as well as the lead-in to the Paris climate talks less than 100 days away.
He painted something of a doomsday scenario if swift action was not taken. Entire nations will find themselves facing severe, severe problems: “More drought. More floods. Rising sea levels. Greater migration. More refugees. More scarcity. More conflict,” Obama said.
“Any leader willing to take a gamble on a future like that, any leader who refuses to take this issue seriously or treats it like a joke, is not fit to lead.
“The time to heed the critics and the cynics and the deniers is past. On this issue — of all issues —there is such a thing as being too late. And that moment is almost upon us.”
His comments came as negotiations resumed in Bonn overnight, attempting to hone an 89-page text into something that could be chiselled into shape for the Paris climate conference, which if it doesn’t lock in a binding treaty with firm 2°C targets, is at least expected to define the mechanisms to reach that target.
Obama hailed his own country’s target of a 26 per cent cut in emissions level from 2005 by 2025, which is being accompanied by strict emissions targets designed to force dirty coal-fired generation out of the market.
The Republicans have vowed to fight and overturn these laws. Only one out of the 17 Republican presidential candidates says he accepts the science and the need to act on emissions.
The Conservative push-back against climate action is spreading to other English-speaking countries, too. In the UK, the re-elected Tory government is scrapping subsidies for renewable energy – or “that green crap” as prime minister David Cameron is reported to have described it.
Canada’s Stephen Harper has been a laggard on climate action too, preferring to fast track the vast tar oil sands industry, and winding back environmental protections and efforts to install a carbon price.
Australian leader, Tony Abbott, who borrowed his “axe the tax” slogan from a preceding campaign in Canada, has done exactly that; scrapping the carbon price, cutting the renewable energy target, and winding back research and other climate action, as well as seeking to dismantle key climate and clean energy institutions.
Canadian author Naomi Klein told ABC TV’s Q&A program on Monday that the infamous Koch Bros, key backers of climate denier groups, were likely to spend up to $1 billion in the upcoming presidential campaigns.
In Australia, it is thought that more than half of the governing Coalition MPs and Senators reject climate science. Leading conservative commentator Tom Switzer insisted that conservatives broadly accepted the science, but then cited contrarian scientists such as Richard Lindzen and Judith Currie who downplay the impacts and the urgency.
Modelling produced by the Coalition suggests than even a 45 per cent emission reduction target by 2030 would have little impact on GDP, over and above its own 26-28 per cent target, despite the environment minister Greg Hunt insisting that labor’s mooted 50 per cent reduction target would cost $660 billion.
Abbott and his Cabinet say that he will not sacrifice the economy to save the environment, and insists that coal is “good for humanity” and Australia should exploit vast coal reserves such as the Galilee Basin. It is considering funding the rail link and port upgrade needed to export that coal.
Obama is facing his own critics in the US over approvals granted to Shell to drill for oil in the Arctic, but has spent this trip underlining his efforts to bring in a transition to renewable energy fuels.
“We’re proving that there doesn’t have to be a conflict between a sound environment and strong economic goals,” he said.
But Obama warned that climate change, left unchecked, would soon trigger global conflict and “condemn our children to a planet beyond their capacity to repair,” Associated Press reported.
Obama said the Arctic was warming faster than any other corner of the globe, and melting permafrost and disintegrating sea ice risked floods, fires and “unimaginable economic damage.”