14 December 2007, UN Bali Climate Change Conference, Bali, Indonesia
We, the human species, face a planetary emergency. That phrase still sounds shrill to some ears but it is deadly accurate as a description of the situation that we now confront, and as Dr. Pachauri and his three thousand colleagues in the IPCC have freshly reminded us, the accumulation of greenhouse gases continues to trap more and more heat from the sun in our atmosphere, threatening the stable climate balance that has been an unappreciated by crucial assumption for the development of human civilization.
Just this week new evidence has been presented. I remember years ago listening to the scientists who specialise in the study of ice and snow express concern that some time towards the end of the 21st century we might even face the possibility of losing the entire north polar ice cap. I remember only three years ago when they revised their estimates to say it could happen halfway through the 21st century, by 2050.
I remember at the beginning of this year when I was shocked to hear them say along with others that it could happen in as little as 34 years and now, this week, they tell us it could completely disappear in as little as five to seven years.
One of the victims of the horrors of the Third Reich in Europe during World War II wrote a famous passage about the beginnings of the killings, and he said, "First I came for the Jews, and I was not a Jew, so I said nothing. Then, they came for the Gypsies, and I was not a Gypsy, so I said nothing," and he listed several other groups, and with each one he said nothing. Then, he said, they came for me.
For those who believed that this climate crisis was going to affect their grandchildren, and still said nothing, and were shaken a bit to hear that it would affect their children, and still said and did nothing, it is affecting us in the present generation, and it is up to us in this generation to solve this crisis.
A sense of urgency that is appropriate for this challenge is itself a challenge to our own moral imagination. It is up to us in this generation to see clearly and vividly exactly what is going on. Twenty of the 21 hottest years ever measured in atmospheric record have come in the last 25 years Ð the hottest of all in 2005, this year on track to be the second hottest of all. This is not natural variation. It is far beyond the bounds of natural variation and the scientists have told us so over and over again with increasing alarm.
But because our new relationship to the earth is unprecedented we have been slow to act. And because CO2 is invisible, it is easy for us to put the climate crisis out of sight and out of mind until we see the consequences beginning to unfold.
Despite a growing number of honourable exceptions, too many of the world's leaders are still best described in the words Winston Churchill used in 1938 when he described those who were ignoring the threat posed by Adolf Hitler. He said, and I quote: "They go on in strange paradox, decided only be undecided, resolved only to be irresolute, adamant for drift, solid for fluidity, all powerful to be impotent."
I am not an official of the United States and I am not bound by the diplomatic niceties. So I am going to speak an inconvenient truth. My own country, the United States, is principally responsible for obstructing progress here in Bali. We all know that, but my country is not the only one that can take steps to ensure that we move forward from Bali with progress and with hope.
Those of you who applauded when I spoke openly about the diplomatic truth here have a choice to make. You can do one of two things here. You can feel anger and frustration and direct it at the United States of America, or you can make a second choice. You can decide to move forward and do all of the difficult work that needs to be done and save an open, large, blank space in your document, and put a footnote by it, and when you look at the footnote, write the description of the footnote: This document is incomplete, but we are going to move forward anyway, on the hope, and I'm going to describe for you why I think you can also have the realistic expectation, that that blank will be filled in.
This is the beginning of a process that is designed to culminate in Copenhagen two years from now. Over the next two years the United States is going to be somewhere it is not now. You must anticipate that.
Targets must be part of the treaty that is adopted in Cophenhagen, and the treaty, by the way, should not only be adopted in 2009. I urge you, in this mandate, to move the target for full implementation of this treaty to a point two years sooner than contemplated. Let's have it take effect in 2010 and not 2012. We can't afford to wait another five years to replace the provisions of the Kyoto Protocol.
So, we must leave here with a strong mandate. This is not the time for business as usual. Somehow we have to summon, and each of you must summon a sense of urgency here in Bali...
...I don't know how to tell you how you can find the grace to navigate around this enormous obstacle, this elephant in the room that I've just been undiplomatic enough to name, but I'm asking you to do it...
Just in the last few days, on the eve of this meeting, I have received more than 350,000 emails from Americans asking me to say to you: "We're going to change in the United States of America."
During this upcoming two-year period there will be a national election in the United States. One year and 40 days from today there will be a new inauguration in the United States.
I must tell you candidly that I cannot promise that the person who is elected will have the position I expect they will have. But I can tell you that I believe it is quite likely.
If you decide to continue the progress that has already been made here on all of the items other than the targets and timetables for mandatory reductions; on the hope (and with the expectation) that, before this process is concluded in Copenhagen, you will be able to fill in that blank (with the help of a different position from the United States) then you can make great progress here.
For starters, that means a plan that fully funds an ambitious adaptation fund, to build an adaptive capacity in the most vulnerable countries to confront the climate crisis. It means creating truly innovative means for technology transfer, to allow for mobilising technology and capital throughout the world.
We need a deforestation prevention plan. Deforestation accounts for 20 percent of global carbon emissions - the equivalent to the total emissions of the US or China. It is difficult to forge such an agreement here.
Believe me if I could snap my fingers and change the position of the United States of America, and change the position of some other countries, and make it instantly much easier to move forward with targets and timetables, I would do so in an instant. But if we look realistically at the situation that confronts us, then wisdom would call for moving forward in spite of that obstacle.
I can tell you that there is a growing realisation all over the world - including in my country - beyond these actions that have already been taken that I've described to you. Mothers and fathers, grandparents, community leaders, business leaders, all around the world, are beginning to look much more clearly at what is involved here.
...These are not a political problems. They are moral imperatives, but our capacity to strip away the disguise, and see them for what they really are, and then find the basis to act together, to successfully address them, is what is missing.
The greatest opportunity inherent in this climate crisis is not only to quickly deploy the new technologies that will facilitate sustainable development, and create the new jobs and to lift standards of living. The greatest opportunity is that in rising to meet the climate crisis, we in our generation will find the moral authority and capacity for long term vision to get our act together in this world and to take on these other crises, not political problems, and solve them.
We are one people on one planet. We have one future, one destiny We must pursue it together, and we can.
The great Spanish poet from Sevilla, Antonio Machado, wrote, "Pathwalker, there is no path. You must make the path as you walk." There is no path from Bali to Copenhagen unless you make it. It's impossible given the positions of the powerful countries, including my own, and the instructions from which they are not going to depart, but you can make new path. You can make a path that goes around that blank spot, and you can go forward.
There are two paths you can choose. They lead to two different futures. Not too long from now, when our children assess what you did here in Bali, what we and our generation did here in this world, as they look backward at 2007, they will ask one of two questions. I don't which one they will ask. I know which one I prefer that they ask, but trust me, they will ask one of these two questions.
They'll look back, and either they will ask "What were you thinking? Didn't you hear the IPCC four times unanimously warning the world to act? Didn't you see the glaciers melting? Didn't you see the North Polar ice cap disappearing? Didn't you see the deserts growing, and the droughts deepening, and the crops drying up? Didn't you see the sea level rising? Didn't you see the floods? Didn't you pay attention to what was going on? Didn't you care? What were you thinking?"
Or they will ask a second question, one that I'd much prefer them to ask. I want them to look back on this time, and ask: "How did you find the moral courage to successfully address a crisis that so many said was impossible to address? How were you able to start the process that unleashed the moral imagination of humankind to see ourselves as a single, global civilization?" And when they ask that question, I want you to tell them that you saw it as a privilege to be alive at a moment when a relatively small group of people could control the destiny of all generations to come.
Instead of shaking our heads at the difficulty of this task, and saying "Woe is us. This is impossible. How can we do this? We're so mad at the ones that are making it impossible," we ought to feel a sense of joy that we have work that is worth doing that is so important to the future of all humankind. We ought to feel a sense of exhilaration that we are the people alive at a moment in history when we can make all the difference.
That's who you are. You have everything that you need. We have everything we need, save political will, but political will is a renewable resource.