President addresses climate change, conservation at East-West Center

Khon 2
August 31st, 2016
By: Alec Cerball

President Barack Obama focused on the impacts of climate change and the importance of conservation in Honolulu Wednesday evening.

He spoke to leaders from the Pacific Island Conference of Leaders and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) World Conservation Congress at the East-West Center at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

“Few people understand, I think, the stakes better than our Pacific Island leaders, because they’re seeing already the impact. Rising temperatures and sea levels pose an existential threat to your countries,” he said. “No nation, not even one as powerful as the United States, is immune from a changing climate.”

Obama addressed his recent expansion of Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument off Hawaii. It creates the world’s largest marine protected area, more than quadrupling the size of the original marine monument defined in 2006. “This is a hallowed site, and it deserves to be treated that way. And from now on, it will be preserved for future generations,” he said.

The president also welcomed the crowd to his home state, and briefly touched on Tropical Storm Madeline and Hurricane Lester and their impact to Hawaii. “The governor says he’s got it all taken care of,” he joked.

The following is a full copy of his remarks as provided by the White House:

Aloha! (Laughter.) You know, it’s not often I get to welcome folks to my home state. (Applause.) But it’s always wonderful to be here, even if it’s only for a day. It’s even rarer that not one but two hurricanes are set to pass through the islands over the next few days. So we’ve been working with the Governor and FEMA to make sure Hawaii’s got everything it needs to keep our folks safe. And, in the meantime, I’d just ask the people of Hawaii to listen to your state and local officials, and make sure you and your families are prepared for the storms. But the Governor says he’s got it all taken care of. He’s pushing them all south. (Laughter.)

I want to thank East-West Center President, Charles Morrison, for hosting all of us this evening. I want to recognize, in addition to the Governor, we also have Senator Brian Schultz — Schatz here. Where is Brian? There he is. (Applause.) I want to thank the 8,000 delegates from more than 180 countries who will share their expertise here at the IUCN World Conservation Congress, including President Zhang Xinsheng and Director General Andersen. To the world leaders and ministers who are here from the Pacific Island Conference of Leaders, thank you for joining us tonight. And I know many of you will be in Washington next month when Secretary Kerry hosts our 2016 Our Oceans Conference.

But today, the United States is proud to host the IUCN Congress for the first time. I just came here from another beautiful place — Lake Tahoe, Nevada. And in my address there I talked about climate change and conservation, and how those two things are inextricably linked. Few people understand, I think, the stakes better than our Pacific Island leaders, because they’re seeing already the impact. Rising temperatures and sea levels pose an existential threat to your countries. And while some members of the U.S. Congress still seem to be debating whether climate change is real or not, many of you are already planning for new places for your people to live. Crops are withering in the Marshall Islands. Kiribati bought land in another country because theirs may someday be submerged. High seas forced villagers from their homes in Fiji.

And no nation, not even one as powerful as the United States, is immune from a changing climate. I saw it myself last year in our northernmost state of Alaska, where the sea is already swallowing villages and eating away at shorelines; where the permafrost thaws and the tundra is burning; where glaciers are melting at a pace unprecedented in modern times. And it was a preview of our future if the climate keeps changing faster than our efforts to address it.

And that’s why I’ve devoted so much of my time and my energy to making sure that we get this right while we still have time. I spoke about this at length in a speech earlier today, but over the past seven and a half years, America has worked to generate more clean energy, use less dirty energy, and waste less energy overall. And it’s made a difference. Our investments have tripled wind power, multiplied solar power thirtyfold, and, in many places, helped clean energy become cheaper than dirty energy. And we did all of this while fueling the longest uninterrupted streak of job growth on record.

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