Obama kicks off push for Paris climate deal

President Obama told dignitaries and diplomats in Paris on Monday that they must reach a historic climate change accord during the United Nations climate conference.

"We are the first generation to feel the impact of climate change, and the last generation that can do something about it," he said.

Speaking at the kick-off event of that summit, Obama said that the United States is committed to working with other nations to reduce climate-change-causing greenhouse gas emissions around the world. 

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“I’ve come here personally, as the leader of the world’s largest economy and the second-largest emitter, to say that the United States of America not only recognizes our role in creating this problem, we embrace our responsibility to do something about it,” Obama said. 

He noted the progress the U.S. has made toward reducing its carbon emissions, such as the deployment of low-emission power like wind and solar. And he referenced two of his most controversial climate-related decisions — the rejection of the Keystone XL Pipeline this month and the implementation his sweeping climate rules for power plants — as proof of his work on the matter. 

“We’ve said 'no' to infrastructure that would pull high-carbon fossil fuels from the ground, and we’ve said 'yes' to the first-ever set of national standards limiting the amount of carbon pollution our power plants can release into the sky,” he said.

Other countries have done the same, Obama added, by growing their economies last year while keeping global emissions flat. 

“We have broken the old arguments for inaction,” he said. “We have proved that economic growth and a safer environment no longer have to conflict with one another. They can work in concert with one another, and that should give us hope.”

Obama is in Paris for the first two days of a U.N. conference aimed at securing a massive international accord on climate change, a focal point of his second term in office.

The conference will attract more than 170 world leaders and any final deal will center around plans from most countries to cut their carbon emissions. Obama brings to the conference a pledge to cut American carbon emissions up to 28 percent from 2005 levels by 2025. 

But despite Obama’s words, there is far from universal support for a climate deal among policymakers in the United States. Congressional Republicans have been especially dismissive of the effort, questioning the legality of any climate change accord that might come from the conference and working to undo Obama’s power plant rules legislatively, something he’s pledged to block. 

Even so, Obama said Monday that the conference is an important moment in the fight against climate change and a chance for the world to begin to focus on fighting global warming.

“Our task here in Paris is to turn these achievements into an enduring framework for human progress, not a stop-gap solution, but a long-term strategy that gives the world confidence in a low-carbon future,” he said.