Rhetoric Roundup: Obama Calls For All Nations to Fight Climate Change, China's Hu Defines Responsibility

Last Updated Sep 22, 2009 8:52 PM EDT

President Obama's speech at the United Nations summit on climate change spent considerable time on the concept of responsibility. Namely, that all countries -- rich and poor, developed and emerging -- are responsible and must share the burden of climate change.

It's an interesting shift by a president, who has more recently kept his remarks on climate change focused on the economic benefits of moving to a green economy. Job creation, independence from foreign oil, safeguarding American consumers and promoting U.S. competitiveness are common talking points from the administration.

There's good reason the conversation about climate change -- here in the U.S. -- has remained fixed on jobs. It's what Americans care and worry about. And if the Senate hopes to pass climate change legislation it will not drift far from that message.

The president's speech today provided no new proposals. Nor did it evoke the same sense of urgency as remarks by Republic of Maldives President Mahamed Nasheed, whose group of islands is sometimes referred to as the canary in the coal mine of global warming.

It did lay out what the United States approach will likely be in negotiations leading up to and during climate change talks this December in Copenhagen. It will be there, world leaders will try to hammer out an agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and combat climate change before the provisions in the Kyoto protocol expire. The United States did not commit the Kyoto climate pact when it was signed in 1997.

His speech attempts to ease concerns that the U.S. is in fact on board; touts progress domestically including the House's passage of climate change legislation and investments in clean energy; and finally, calls on all nations to work towards a solution. The words "responsibility" and "commitment" are mentioned repeatedly.

The speech also more than hints at the need for developing nations to share the burden. Obama doesn't name China or India, but it's clear those are the "developing nations" he's referring to.

"Those rapidly growing developing nations that will produce nearly all the growth in global carbon emissions in the decades ahead must do their part, as well. Some of these nations have already made great strides with the development and deployment of clean energy. Still they need to commit to strong measures at home and agree to stand behind those commitments just as the developed nations must stand behind their own," said Obama, according to text of his speech provided by the White House.
The order is a stiff one.

And his speech has already been poo-pooed by critics frustrated with the lack of progress on climate change legislation in the Senate.

It will be especially difficult given China's recent "good guy" status, as the WSJ's Environmental Capital notes. It seems everyone including former vice president Al Gore is applauding China's leadership on the issue of climate change.

Chinese premier Hu Jintao, who also spoke to the 100 heads of state attending the climate summit, detailed his country's vision of responsibility, which amounts to developed, and therefore wealthier nations, like the U.S. should taking on a greater share of the financial burden than say, a still developing nation, such as, China.

Hu did outline a commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in his speech. But there were few details beyond, a pledge to "cut carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP by a notable margin by 2020 from the 2005 level." Hu also said the country would develop renewable energy and nuclear energy; increase energy efficiency and increase forest coverage by 40 million hectares.

The question is whether all of this rhetoric will amount to anything more than, well rhetoric?