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Obama Hails Climate Deal as 'Best Chance' to Save Planet

  • Aru Pande

President Barack Obama speaks about the Paris climate agreement from the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington, Dec. 12, 2015.

President Barack Obama speaks about the Paris climate agreement from the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington, Dec. 12, 2015.

President Barack Obama is hailing the climate change agreement reached in Paris as a potential turning point for the world.

“This agreement represents the best chance we've had to save the one planet that we've got,” he said Saturday.

In an eight-minute statement, Obama said that by approving the deal, 195 nations have shown that they have both the will and the ability to take on the challenge of climate change by reducing carbon emissions and committing to a low-carbon future.

“We came together around the strong agreement the world needed. We met the moment,” the president said in the Cabinet Room of the White House.

WATCH: President Barack Obama's statement on the climate change agreement:

The agreement sets a goal of keeping global warming below 2 degrees Celsius and calls for the participating nations to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Under the deal, all nations will communicate their climate targets every five years, starting in 2020. The agreement sets up a transparency system in which countries will disclose not only carbon emissions but also the source of those emissions and what nations are doing to mitigate greenhouse gases.

Obama said as technology advances, the climate deal paves the way for more ambitious targets over time, while ensuring support for the world’s most vulnerable countries as they pursue cleaner economic growth.

“In short, this agreement will mean less of the carbon pollution that threatens our planet and more of the jobs and economic growth driven by low-carbon investment,” Obama said.

U.S. leadership

The president said U.S. leadership on fighting climate change was instrumental to reaching the historic global deal.

Domestically, Obama cited U.S. investments in wind, solar and other clean energy that helped create jobs, and new nationwide standards aimed at cutting emissions from coal-fired power plants by 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.

“We’ve driven our economic output to all-time highs while driving our carbon pollution down to its lowest level in nearly two decades,” he said.

Internationally, Obama cited the joint climate change announcement with China made during his visit to Beijing in November 2014. The United States announced a goal of reducing carbon emissions by 26 to 28 percent below its 2005 level by 2025. China committed to peak its carbon emissions by 2030.

Obama said the deal with China showed it was possible to bridge the divides between developed and developing nations.

“That accomplishment encouraged dozens and dozens of other nations to set their own ambitious climate targets. And that was the foundation for success in Paris,” the president said.

Bruce Jones, deputy director of foreign policy with the Washington-based Brookings Institution, said the Obama administration’s efforts to get the world’s two largest emitters to commit to curb emissions transformed global climate negotiations.

“I think in the long history of this, we will see the president’s diplomatic moves on China, on climate change, as the single most important thing that he did,” Jones said.

Presidential priority

While hailing the deal, Obama urged the world to not be complacent, noting that the agreement was not perfect and “only goes part of the way there when it comes to reducing carbon from the atmosphere.”

Still, he remained optimistic. “Make no mistake, the Paris agreement establishes the enduring framework the world needs to solve the climate crisis," he said. "It creates the mechanism, the architecture, for us to continually tackle this problem in an effective way.”

From visiting communities vulnerable to rising sea levels, to being the first American president to travel to the Arctic circle to highlight the melting ice, Obama has made climate change a top priority since he was first elected in 2008.

“This is the culmination of a deliberate and patient strategy to fundamentally change the global dynamic on climate change,” a senior administration official said.

For his part, during his numerous travels and remarks highlighting climate change, Obama has always couched the threat as one that must be urgently addressed for the sake of future generations.

“I imagine taking my grandkids, if I’m lucky enough to have some, to the park someday, and holding their hands, and hearing their laughter, and watching a quiet sunset, all the while knowing that our work today prevented an alternate future that could have been grim,” Obama said.

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