Obama Challenged on Climate During Turkey Trip
A Greenpeace banner welcomed the U.S. president to Istanbul. Photo via Today's Zaman
U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Ankara and Istanbul this week was hailed by most local politicians and media outlets, who saw the trip as an affirmation of Turkey's increasing importance on the world stage. But not everyone gave Obama a warm welcome: Various groups used the occasion to demonstrate against Turkey's membership in NATO, protest Washington's request that Turkey increase its commitments in Afghanistan, and call on the American president to show leadership on climate change.On Monday, Greenpeace activists hung banners bearing a picture of Obama and the message, "Save the climate for peace," written in English, Turkish, and Arabic, on the heavily trafficked Bosphorus Bridge, which connects the Asian and European sides of Istanbul. Eighteen of the activists were detained by police for the protest action.
In a statement, Greenpeace connected environmental issues to present and future conflicts in the Middle East, noting that oil consumption drives climate change, which can in turn lead to water shortages that may add to current disputes over oil. Said Korol Diker, the climate and energy campaigner for Greenpeace Mediterranean:
If we want to establish sustainable peace in this region, this is the year to act strongly to protect the climate, and President Obama can and should take the lead. This is a critical year for strong US leadership on climate and energy, with the deadline for international action set for the Copenhagen climate talks in December.
When will the U.S. sign Kyoto?
Obama was also challenged on the issue of global warming at a town-hall-style meeting he held yesterday with Turkish university students. The first audience member to pose a question referenced Obama's quoting of a famous saying by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Turkish Republic, "peace at home, peace in the world," and asked, "...[in] my opinion, firstly the peace should be in nature. For this reason, I wonder when the USA will sign the Kyoto Protocol?" (Turkey just signed the international accord on greenhouse gas emissions in February.)
After starting off with a general statement on the importance of dealing with climate change ("Just answer the question," someone I was watching the televised meeting with grumbled), Obama got a little more to the point:
When the Kyoto Protocol was put forward, the United States opted out of it, as did China and some other countries--and I think that was a mistake, particularly because the United States...has been the biggest carbon producer. China is now becoming the biggest carbon producer because its population is so large. And so we need to bring an international agreement together very soon.
It doesn't make sense for the United States to sign Kyoto because Kyoto is about to end [in 2012]. So instead what my administration is doing is preparing for the next round, which is--there will be discussions in Copenhagen at the end of this year. And what we want to do is to prepare an agenda both in the United States and work internationally so that we can start making progress on these issues.
Obama went on to talk about the need to become more energy-efficient and reduce carbon emissions from fossil fuels, saying that
the politics of this in every country is going to be difficult, because if you suddenly say to people, you have to change your factory to make it more energy efficient--well, that costs the factory owner money. If you say to a power plant, you have to produce energy in a different way, and that costs them money, then they want to pass that cost on to consumers, which means everybody's electricity prices go up--and that is something that is not very popular.
and ending with a call for young people like those he was addressing to get involved in the forthcoming "big political struggles in every country to try to ratify an agreement on these issues."
In some ways, Obama's response seemed like he was dodging the question, but I was left wondering about the many things that have surely changed, both in terms of the political landscape--the rise of China as a carbon producer being just one example--and our scientific knowledge, since the agreement was first negotiated in 1997. Does whether or not the U.S. signs Kyoto still matter, symbolically or otherwise? Or is Obama right that it's time to move on? Via: "Obama Holds a Town Hall in Istanbul," The Washington Post
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