President expected to announce a series of new climate resilience measures on three-day visit, but green groups accuse him of hypocrisy over Arctic drilling
President Barack Obama yesterday kicked off a three-day visit to Alaska designed to highlight the urgent need to accelerate international efforts to tackle climate change.
Speaking at the Conference on Global Leadership in the Arctic, or Glacier Summit, in Anchorage, Obama said the onus was on world leaders to deliver an ambitious new climate treaty at this December's UN summit in Paris.
"This year in Paris has to be the year that the world finally reaches an agreement to protect the one planet that we've got while we still can," he said. "This is within our power. This is a solvable problem - if we start now. We are starting to see that enough consensus is being built internationally and within each of our own body politics that we may have the political will to get moving."
However, as diplomats gather in Bonn this week for the latest round of preliminary talks ahead of the Paris Summit, Obama acknowledged none of the Arctic countries represented in Anchorage were "moving fast enough" in their efforts to combat climate change.
Speaking against a backdrop of retreating Alaskan glaciers, Obama emphasised once again that the US was already facing climate impacts, highlighting how the equivalent of 75 blocks of ice the size of the national mall in Washington were being lost from Alaska each year.
"Climate change is no longer some far-off problem," he said. "Climate change is already disrupting our agriculture and ecosystems, our water and food supplies, our energy and infrastructure."
Over the next few days Obama is scheduled to visit the Exit Glacier in Seward, the fishing hub of Dillingham, and then enter the Arctic Circle to visit the small town of Kotzebue. In an unusual move, he is also reportedly preparing to film a special episode of Running Wild with Bear Grylls where he will be taught survival skills by the British explorer.
In addition, the White House is expected to announce a series of new measures to help Alaska adapt to climate change. "Over the course of the coming days I intend to speak more about the particular challenges facing Alaska and the United States as an Arctic power and intend to announce new measures to address them," Obama confirmed.
However, while green groups have praised Obama for prioritising action on climate change during his final two years in office the latest attempt to raise the profile of the issue faced a flurry of criticism, after the President last month gave Shell the green light to start drilling for oil off the Alaskan coast.
"President Obama's visit to Alaska puts a spotlight on his climate hypocrisy," said Friends of the Earth climate campaigner Marissa Knodel in a statement. "Rubber-stamping Shell's reckless pursuit for Arctic oil and gas is antithetical to calling for climate action. By allowing these unburnable fossil fuels to be developed, President Obama is making the adverse climate impacts that Alaska is experiencing worse, not better. If President Obama wants to be a true climate leader, he needs to disavow his "all of the above" energy plan and keep Arctic oil and gas in the ground."
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