US will lead efforts to combat climate change

This week, U.S. President Barack Obama spoke to world leaders on climate change during a special U.N. summit in New York on the eve of the 64th session of the U.N. General Assembly.  The nations of the world are working hard right now to negotiate a new international agreement to combat climate change.

This week, U.S. President Barack Obama spoke to world leaders on climate change during a special U.N. summit in New York on the eve of the 64th session of the U.N. General Assembly.  The nations of the world are working hard right now to negotiate a new international agreement to combat climate change.

Climate change is one of the greatest challenges facing our world today.  Already its impacts are apparent and consequences severe.  The science sends a simple and stark message: all countries must work together to combat climate change, and the time for action is now.

President Obama recognizes that the United States must be a leader in the global effort to combat climate change.  We have a responsibility as the world’s largest historic emitter of greenhouse gases. 

We know that without U.S. emissions reductions no solution to climate change is possible, so the U.S. will take the lead in building a 21st century clean energy economy.
Following President Obama’s call for the U.S. Congress to develop comprehensive clean energy legislation to cut emissions 14 percent from 2005 levels in 2020 and 83 percent in 2050, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill, which is making its way through the legislative process.

The President’s economic stimulus package
includes over $80 billion for clean energy, and recently instituted vehicle standards will increase fuel economy and reduce emissions.

But action by the U.S. and other developed nations is not enough.  To preserve a safe and livable planet, all major emitting nations have to join together to take strong action.  Developed countries need to reduce their emissions substantially by 2020 on an absolute basis.

At the same time, major developing nations must substantially reduce their own emissions by 2020 on a relative basis.  There is no other way to contain climate change - the International Energy Agency estimates 97 percent of future emissions growth will come from the developing world.  

Other developing countries have a much different role to play. They should focus on preparing low-carbon growth plans - with financial and technical assistance where needed - to guide their longer-term development path.

A new agreement is critical for all countries and especially important for those most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

And a new agreement will benefit developing countries, by providing financial and technological assistance to lower emissions and help countries adapt to the impacts of climate change.

Such an agreement will not require developing countries to take steps that would stifle their capacity to develop and grow.

All countries deserve the opportunity to lift their people out of poverty and raise their standard of living. 

Ultimately, a new climate change agreement must help answer the question of how the world can develop in the decades ahead without endangering our planet. 

Clean energy development is the only sustainable way forward and countries with advanced capabilities must stand ready to develop and share technologies with countries in need.

If we work together, the effort to build a clean energy global economy can provide significant opportunity, driving investment, economic growth and job creation around the world.

And it can help bring energy services to hundreds of millions of the world’s poor.  In the world of communications, many developing countries skipped the stage of expensive and often inaccessible wired phone service, going directly to mobile phones.

We can do the same in the world of energy - with the right support, developing countries can skip “dirty” phases of development by pursuing low-carbon
technologies and clean energy opportunities.

Rwanda is already playing an important role in combating climate change.  President Paul Kagame demonstrated strong leadership at the UN General Assembly in New York in his call for worldwide attention to and action on this critical issue.  Moreover, the Rwandan and U.S. governments have been working together successfully to lessen the effects of climate change in Rwanda.

For example, in partnership with the  Rwanda Development Board of Tourism & Conservation, we have been supporting conservation of the Nyungwe National Park since 2006 through a project called “Profitable Ecotourism through Improved Biodiversity Conservation in Rwanda,” which
promotes sustainable tourism that is compatible with community development.

Since this program began, there has been a tenfold increase -- from 724 to 7,494 hectares -- in the amount of land around the Nyungwe Forest showing enhanced biophysical conditions, which in turn has significantly reduced human-induced carbon dioxide
emissions that result from forest degradation.

As part of the U.S.’s upcoming Global Food Security Response initiative in Rwanda, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Ministry of Agriculture, and other international and local partners will promote soil conservation, irrigation, and improved post-harvest storage in order to protect Rwanda’s agricultural plantations and ecosystems and, thus, enhance its resilience to climate change. 

In addition, through the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), we are partnering with the Ministries of Health and Infrastructure to provide energy systems, including solar power, to health clinics that are currently beyond the national power grid.

This initiative provides clean energy to rural health facilities, facilitates the use of electronic medical equipment for diagnosis and treatment, and enables these clinics to offer extended service hours to patients. 

We can make a positive difference in preserving and enhancing the environment we all share.  The United States is clear in its intent to secure a strong international agreement, and is confident that together we can meet the climate change challenge.

Anne Casper
is the Chargé d’Affaires U.S. Embassy Kigali

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