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Obama in Paris: Climate Summit an 'Act of Defiance' Against Terrorists

(Official White House photo by Pete Souza)

President Obama told the opening session of the climate summit in Paris today that “we salute the people of Paris for insisting this crucial conference go on” despite terrorist attacks that rocked the French capital less than a month ago.

Obama called going ahead with the climate conference “an act of defiance that proves nothing will deter us from building the future we want for our children.”

“What greater rejection of those who would tear down our world than marshaling our best efforts to save it?” he added.

The White House had been eagerly awaiting the climate conference to push one of the president’s key agenda items, a climate-change accord. Press secretary Josh Earnest told CNN this morning that “what the president has come to Paris to get is to get all countries around the world to follow through on their commitment to make ambitious, robust commitments to cut carbon pollution and fight the climate change, and also commit to a set of verifiable, transparent steps to make sure that we can account for them living up to those commitments.”

“Thanks to this president’s leadership and the success that he had in getting China to make a significant commitment to reduce their carbon pollution, we’ve actually now seen that about 180 countries have made substantial commitments. That means we actually are going to do something to follow through on the cause of climate change,” Earnest insisted. “None of it would be possible without the leadership of the United States and without the leadership of this president.”

Obama told the forum that “the growing threat of climate change could define the contours of this century more dramatically than any other.”

“Fourteen of the fifteen warmest years on record have occurred since the year 2000 — and 2015 is on pace to be the warmest year of all. No nation — large or small, wealthy or poor — is immune to what this means,” he said.

“…One of the enemies that we’ll be fighting at this conference is cynicism, the notion we can’t do anything about climate change. Our progress should give us hope during these two weeks — hope that is rooted in collective action.”

The president added that on his recent trip to Asia, a young Indonesian woman asked him a question at a townhall in Malaysia. “And it wasn’t about terrorism, it wasn’t about the economy, it wasn’t about human rights. It was about climate change. And she asked whether I was optimistic about what we can achieve here in Paris, and what young people like her could do to help,” he said.

“I want our actions to show her that we’re listening. I want our actions to be big enough to draw on the talents of all our people — men and women, rich and poor — I want to show her passionate, idealistic young generation that we care about their future…. Our generation may not even live to see the full realization of what we do here. But the knowledge that the next generation will be better off for what we do here — can we imagine a more worthy reward than that?”

As Obama is deal-making, Congress is poised to keep his actions in Paris in check.

“The administration has repeatedly refused to explain what constitutes the 26% to 28% reduction in greenhouse gases, leaving stakeholders, Congress and the American people to speculate about what its intentions are,” Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) wrote today on CNN.com.

“As the courts and Congress dismantle Obama’s domestic plan, he will be limited in producing anything substantive internationally,” Inhofe said. “Some foreign leaders are strongly urging Obama to keep Congress out of considering any commitment reached at the COP21.  However, should he heed that advice, he will be left with a nonbinding political commitment and no means of enforcement, accountability or longevity.”

The House Science, Space and Technology Committee will hold a hearing Tuesday featuring live testimony from Paris of Copenhagen Consensus Center president Dr. Bjørn Lomborg, who argues that if every government does everything pledged for the Paris climate conference by 2030 it will reduce global temperature increases less than 0.05°C by 2100. Meanwhile, about $1 trillion would be cut from the economy each year for the remainder of the century.