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December 18, 2009
10:15 AM

CONTACT: Center for Biological Diversity

Kassie Siegel,,
951-768-8301 (U.S. cell in Copenhagen)

Statement on President Obama’s Climate Speech by the Center for Biological Diversity

COPENHAGEN - December 18 - Just hours after touching down in Copenhagen, President Obama delivered a speech indicating that the U.S. negotiating position is unchanged.  The U.S. has pledged to cut emissions by only about 3% below 1990 levels by 2020.  According to a United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Secretariat document leaked yesterday, the emissions reductions promised by the U.S. and other countries would, even if fully realized, still result in atmospheric CO2 concentrations exceeding 550 parts per million and a global temperature rise of over 3 degrees C.  This translates into a death sentence for small island nations, coral reefs, polar bears and much of the world’s biodiversity.  And the 550 ppm and 3 degree prediction of the Secretariat is likely optimistic; independent scientists conclude the current proposals in Copenhagen would take us to over 750 ppm and 3.9 degrees of warming.

Obama also conditioned U.S. support for a $100 billion fund to help the most vulnerable nations in the developing world cope with the impact of global warming “if – and only if – it is part of the broader accord” outlined by the U.S.

Kassie Siegel, director of the Climate Law Institute of the Center for Biological Diversity, had the following response to President Obama’s speech:

“President Obama offered only ultimatums to those countries most impacted by global warming; accept our terms or we will block funding to help you survive the crisis we caused but for which we still refuse to take responsibility.”

“Notably, in an apparent conscious renunciation of one of the most fundamental principals of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Obama replaced the phrase ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’ with the new phrase ‘common but differentiated responses.’  In short, under Obama, the U.S. apparently refuses to accept its unique responsibility as the largest cumulative greenhouse emitter on the planet.”

“Given Obama reaffirmed his position that the U.S. would commit to cutting carbon dioxide emissions by only 3% below 1990 levels by 2020, any deal announced in Copenhagen can not in any rational sense of the word be deemed a ‘success.’  The IPCC estimates that CO2 reductions of 25-40% below 1990 levels are needed by 2020 to avoid greater than 2 degrees of warming, while cuts of over 45% are likely needed to get on a trajectory for the only scientifically and ethically credible target of 350 ppm.”

“For the U.S. to put on the negotiating table a take-it-or-leave-it proposal that, by all reasonable and rational accounts would result in the death or displacement of millions of people and the extinctions of hundreds of thousands (perhaps millions) of species, is unacceptable.  It is hard to image Obama the Candidate endorsing such position.  But Obama the President is, when it comes to actual actions on climate, far closer to President Bush than Candidate Obama.  The U.S. and the world need Candidate Obama to reemerge.”

At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature - to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law, and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters, and climate that species need to survive.

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