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Obama: We Must Create a 'World That is Worthy of Our Children'

Climate

Today, President Obama joined more than 150 world leaders to kick off the COP21 UN Climate Summit in Paris. The goal of the two week conference is to finalize a binding agreement that will reduce global carbon emissions to limit global warming to 2C or 3.6F.

The talks opened with a moment of silence for victims of the Nov. 13 terror attacks in Paris.

"A political moment like this may not come again," U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in his opening remarks. "We have never faced such a test. But neither have we encountered such great opportunity."

President Obama said we need to deliver a meaningful deal because the "next generation is watching."

"Accepting this challenge will not reward us with moments of victory that are clear or quick," he said. "Our progress will be measured differently—in the suffering that is averted, and a planet that's preserved ... 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? Passing that on to our children and our grandchildren, so that when they look back and they see what we did here in Paris, they can take pride in our achievement. Let that be the common purpose here in Paris. A world that is worthy of our children."

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“This morning, President Obama made the case that all the incredible momentum that we have seen in recent months can and should be transformed into a strong, significant agreement among nations to act in Paris and beyond," Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said.

"Clean energy is more affordable and more accessible than ever before. More than 160 countries are at the table already with commitments to slash emissions. Record numbers of people around the world have taken to the streets calling for action—and their calls are being echoed in corporate boardrooms nationwide. Now, it’s time to make it count and fight for an agreement that puts us on a path to tackle the worst effects of the climate crisis, protect the most vulnerable communities, and grow a just, equitable clean energy economy.”

350.org Executive Director May Boeve agrees. "President Obama has lifted up climate change as the great moral issue of our time. Now, he must deliver. The science is clear: we must end the use of fossil fuels and fully transition to 100% renewable energy by 2050," she said. "Here in Paris, politicians must agree on that North Star and chart a clear course to get there. The hundreds of thousands who took to the streets over the weekend for the Global Climate March expect nothing less."

"President Obama’s words today made clear that communities around the world can’t wait any longer for real action on climate," commented Greenpeace Executive Director Annie Leonard. "His speech showed that the political leaders and diplomats gathered in Paris need to deliver an ambitious agreement to protect those least responsible yet most affected by climate change.

 “As the world’s second largest emitter and the biggest economy, the U.S. has a key role as a leader in international climate negotiations. That leadership entails a huge responsibility to  those most affected by the negative impacts of climate change, not only in America but all over the world.”

Also today at COP21, President Obama and French President Hollande, along with other global leaders, announced “Mission Innovation” to reinvigorate innovation to help accelerate the global clean energy revolution to address climate change.

Twenty participating countries—including China, India, the U.S., Indonesia and Brazil—will work to double its clean energy research and development investment over the next five years. All partner countries together represent 75 percent of the world’s CO2 emissions from electricity, and more than 80 percent of the world’s clean energy R&D investment.

"We know that large scale penetration of clean energy technologies will require that smart investment by governments is followed by smart private-sector investments," Paul Bodnar, National Security Council's senior director for Energy and Climate Change, and Dave Turk, deputy assistant secretary for International Climate and Technology at the U.S. Department of Energy, said in a blog post.

"That is why Mission Innovation is complemented by a separate private sector-led effort that has pledged to invest extraordinary levels of private capital in clean energy, focusing on early-stage innovations. This parallel initiative—spearheaded by Bill Gates—includes a coalition of over 28 significant private capital investors from 10 countries, and will be called Breakthrough Energy Coalition."

Martin Kaiser, head of international climate politics at Greenpeace welcomed the announcement.

“The offer of billions of dollars for research into clean renewable energy is a welcome addition to an energy sector that is already making huge strides," Kaiser said. "This could help deliver the great prize—100% renewable for everyone by 2050.  The President told the summit he means business this time. If the new cash is ploughed into the genuine clean high-technology renewable industries that are already delivering, we’ll know he means it.”

With the huge sums being talked about, there has to be some democratic accountability as to how it’s spent. For example it mustn’t go towards so-called geo-engineering—short-term quick-fixes that would store up long-term danger. We don’t yet know who will decide how the cash is distributed, but the people who have most to lose from climate change should certainly have a voice at the table.”

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Kristan Porter grew up in a fishing family in the fishing community of Cutler, Maine, where he says all roads lead to one career path: fishing. (Porter's father was the family's lone exception. He suffered from terrible seasickness, and so became a carpenter.) The 49-year-old, who has been working on boats since he was a kid and fishing on his own since 1991, says that the recent warming of Maine's cool coastal waters has yielded unprecedented lobster landings.

"The temperature of the Gulf of Maine is creating the right conditions for lobster, so it's helped our industry—and it's been a big boost for the Maine economy," Porter, the current president of the Maine Lobstermen's Association, said. "But you never know what lies ahead. If it continues to warm, it may end up going the other way."

The Gulf of Maine is setting frequent temperature records and warming faster overall than 99 percent of the world's oceans, due in large part to climate change. Meanwhile, its lobster population skyrocketed by 515 percent between 1984 and 2014. In 1990, for example, lobster landings in Maine totaled 28 million pounds. Ten years later that figure was up to 57 million pounds. And in every year since 2011, the take has exceeded 100 million pounds, peaking at 132.6 million pounds in 2016 and turning lobster into a half-billion-dollar industry for the state.

Fishermen like Porter have been reaping the benefits of the boom, but he's right — as the Gulf of Maine's waters inevitably continue to warm, lobster populations will almost certainly decrease. The crustaceans thrive at temperatures between 61 and 64 degrees Fahrenheit. Once the water hits 70 degrees, its oxygen levels plummet, to the detriment of a host of marine plants and animals, lobsters included. According to a 2018 study, the gulf's lobster population could fall by 40 to 62 percent over the next 30 years, returning the industry — the nation's most valuable fishery — to early-2000s numbers.

"Temperature is a big part of the story here," said Andrew Pershing, chief scientific officer at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute (GMRI) and a coauthor of the study. "Lobster is likely to decline, and that's obviously more worrisome in the North, where it has been booming."

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Marine scientist Susie Arnold of the Rockland, Maine–based Island Institute notes that rising temperatures have also contributed to a decline in other fisheries like shrimp, cod and scallops, leaving fishermen in Maine precariously dependent on the thriving lobster populations. "A lot of fishermen in coastal communities in Maine are relying on just one fishery, and as we're seeing the impacts of climate change, that definitely gets people worried," she said. In response, Arnold and her colleagues are encouraging fishermen to think about diversification opportunities like aquaculture. "We're trying to help coastal communities maintain their cultural heritage, and a large part of that has to do with making a living off a healthy marine ecosystem."

State lawmakers, too, are taking note of the warming trend and rising up in support of climate action. Maine Governor Janet Mills cited concerns about climate change impacting the lobster industry in her February announcement that the state would join the U.S. Climate Alliance. She has also linked the recent creation of a Maine Climate Council and ambitious statewide renewable energy goals to the health of local fisheries. (Mills recently signed several climate bills into law that will help the state transition to 80 percent renewable energy by 2030 and reduce emissions 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.)

Such a head-on response to the impacts of climate change facing Maine offers a much-needed boost to the future of both lobsters and the coastal communities that rely on the fishery. Meanwhile, the iconic sea creatures have already benefited from generations of conservation efforts, as noted by Pershing and his fellow researchers. In addition to heeding minimum and maximum catch size limits, fishers must refrain from taking any egg-bearing female lobsters. Instead, when they catch these breeders, they clip their tails with a "V notch,"—a mark that will stay with a lobster through several molts—then release them. (The clipped tail signals to other fisherman who may encounter the same lobsters that they are off-limits.)

Porter and other fisherman liken this investment in the future of the industry to putting money in the bank. And marine scientists, including NRDC's Lisa Suatoni, call it smart climate policy. "Leaving these large, fecund females in the water is a really good idea in the context of a rapidly changing environment," Suatoni said. "It isn't just fixated on how to get maximum sustainable yield but also expanding our objective to also get increased ecological or evolutionary resilience."

The decline of the lobster industry in Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island, where waters are warmer and regulations less stringent than in Maine, serves as a cautionary tale for their northern neighbor. Landings in southern New England shrank by as much as 70 percent from 1997 to 2007, but the industry has resisted many conservation measures, and again rejected fishing restrictions brought to the table by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission in 2017.

The proposed restrictions would have changed the legal harvesting size and reduced the number of traps allowed per fisherman, among other regulation changes. Had Maine followed the same lax approach, Pershing and his colleagues estimate that lobster populations in the Gulf of Maine would have increased by less than half as much as it did during their 30-year study period.

While Pershing praises Maine's forward-looking approach for boosting the resilience of its lobster industry in the face of the growing climate crisis, "there's a limit to how much we can adapt and how much we can manage around it," he said. "When you look beyond 2050 in a high-CO2 world, it's a scenario where fisheries are really challenged no matter where you look in the country. We have to figure out how to avoid that because everything gets so much more difficult in that world—and we can make that case in a really concrete way with some of the fishery models."

Pershing says that climate change is having impacts up and down the food chain in the Gulf of Maine. For example, a sharp decline in a species of tiny copepod — a shrimp-like creature that is a favorite food of herring, seabirds and endangered right whales — is putting further stress on these creatures.

"These aren't just faraway changes that are happening in the ocean where nobody really sees them," Pershing said. "There are real consequences for the Gulf of Maine and the communities that live on the coast."

Nicole Greenfield is a writer at NRDC whose articles on religion, the environment, popular culture and social justice have appeared in many publications.

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Speaking during a conference in Washington, DC in June, Derrick Morgan, senior vice president for federal and regulatory affairs at the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM), touted "model legislation" that states across the nation have passed in recent months.

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"Big Oil is hijacking our legislative system," Dallas Goldtooth of the Indigenous Environmental Network said after the Texas Senate passed the bill in May.

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"The AFPM lobbyist also boasted that the template legislation has enjoyed bipartisan support," according to Fang. "In Louisiana, Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards signed the version of the bill there, which is being challenged by the Center for Constitutional Rights. Even in Illinois, Morgan noted, 'We almost got that across the finish line in a very Democratic-dominated legislature.' The bill did not pass as it got pushed aside over time constraints at the end of the legislative session."

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