Obama defends U.S. on climate change

President Barack Obama downplayed congressional delays in climate change legislation as he worked to win over world leaders who are skeptical of America’s commitment to the issue.

Addressing the U.N. Climate Change Summit in New York on Tuesday, Obama claimed the U.S. has made more progress in the past year than at any other time. He boasted of House legislation earlier this year that capped carbon emissions, but he did not mention Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's (D-Nev.) recent announcement that the bill would not be taken up in the upper chamber until next year.

Obama did say one committee in the Senate has already acted, but he failed to mention that only the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee has passed an energy bill and that the bill does not contain any cap on emissions.

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Reid's announcement earlier this month signaled that another one of the president's signature domestic agenda items had stalled as the debate over healthcare reform continued to dominate Congress and the White House.

The delay on climate change legislation was viewed as a major setback for the president ahead of December's U.N. Climate Change Summit in Copenhagen, Denmark. European leaders already view the U.S. skeptically on the issue.

Despite that, Obama sought to sell a silver lining to world leaders, boasting of progress on the issue that he and other Democrats say was blunted during former President George W. Bush's administration.

"It is true that for too many years, mankind has been slow to respond to or even recognize the magnitude of the climate threat. It is true of my own country as well," Obama said. "We recognize that. But this is a new day. It is a new era. And I am proud to say that the United States has done more to promote clean energy and reduce carbon pollution in the last eight months than at any other time in our history."

The president acknowledged the "bumpy road" ahead.

"It is work that will not be easy," Obama said. "As we head toward Copenhagen, there should be no illusions that the hardest part of our journey is in front of us. We seek sweeping but necessary change in the midst of a global recession, where every nation’s most immediate priority is reviving their economy and putting their people back to work."

But the president said that "difficulty is no excuse for complacency" and pressed world leaders to "seize the opportunity to make Copenhagen a significant step forward in the global fight against climate change."

The president also conceded that the largest emitters, like the U.S. and China, have a responsibility to step up and address not only their own emissions but also those of developing countries.

China has been slow to come to the table on the matter, and Obama seemed to be bringing them into the debate, willingly or not.

The president did seem to push the idea that the debate over the reality of climate change is largely in the past, even as some Republicans continue to be skeptical, especially of legislative efforts they say will raise taxes on the middle class and hamper business interests.

"The good news is that after too many years of inaction and denial, there is finally widespread recognition of the urgency of the challenge before us," Obama said. "We know what needs to be done."

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