Obama Thanks Europe For Leading On Climate Change

At the Brandenburg Gate, Obama calls for changes in America’s nuclear posture and for action on climate change.

Obama waves to a crowd in front of Berlin’s Brandenberg Gate on Wednesday. Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama told a crowd in Berlin Wednesday that Germany is leading the fight against climate change. In the midst of his big speech at the Brandenburg Gate, Obama took a moment to give a shout-out to his hosts for their efforts in an area that’s still extremely politically controversial in America.

“The efforts to slow climate change requires bold action, and on this, Germany and Europe have led,” Obama said. He called climate change “the global threat of our time” and said, “For the sake of future generations, our generation must move toward a global compact to confront a changing climate before it is too late. That is our job. That is our task.”

Obama noted his own administration’s efforts to boost green energy and reduce carbon emissions — tasks largely completed without the help of Republicans in Congress, who remain skeptical of climate change as a concept — but he also made it clear that he doesn’t think enough has been done in the U.S.

“We know we have to do more,” Obama said, “and we will do more.”

Failing to act on climate change, Obama said, hearkening back to his previous statements on the topic, means “more severe storms, more famine and floods, new waves of refugees, coastlines that vanish, oceans that rise.” He called on nations to join him in “refusing to condemn our children to a harsher, less hospitable planet.”

The crowd may have been smaller than the last time Obama gave a big speech in Berlin, but the president sketched out a similarly sweeping vision to the one he did before several hundred thousand Germans in 2008.

Obama used the speech to call for a change in the country’s relationship with nuclear arms, previewing a strategy to “[reduce] the role of nuclear weapons in our security strategy,” according to a White House fact sheet. That includes “recognizing that the potential for a surprise, disarming nuclear attack is exceedingly remote” decades after the end of Cold War, according to the fact sheet.

Obama called for the U.S. and Russia to enter negotiations that Obama hopes will lead to steep reductions in the world’s two largest nuclear arms stockpiles.

“After a comprehensive review, I’ve determined that we can ensure the security of America and our allies — and maintain a strong and credible strategic deterrent — while reducing our deployed strategic nuclear weapons by up to one-third,” Obama said. “And I intend to seek negotiated cuts with Russia to move beyond Cold War nuclear postures.”

The nuclear weapons focus was the White House headline from the speech. But Obama also called for big moves on climate change, giving a shoutout to his hosts for their efforts in an area that’s still extremely politically controversial in America.

“The efforts to slow climate change requires bold action, and on this, Germany and Europe have led,” Obama said. He called climate change “the global threat of our time” and said, “For the sake of future generations, our generation must move toward a global compact to confront a changing climate before it is too late. That is our job. That is our task.”

Though he remains extremely popular in Germany, Obama has taken criticism in the country over the National Security Administration programs recently revealed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. At a press conference earlier in the day, Obama tried to reassure his hosts, but also push the big idea that the world has changed in the digital age.

“When it comes to the internet and email, as [German] Chancellor [Angela] Merkel said, ‘We’re now in an internet age and we have to make sure that our administrative rules and our protections catch up with this new cyber world,’” Obama said. “What I can say to everybody in Germany and everybody around the world is this applies very narrowly to leads that we have obtained on issues related to terrorism or proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.”

Fifty years after President John F. Kennedy defined the Berlin presidential speech with his “ich bin ein Berliner” line, Obama tried to use the city’s unique history to create his own call for the spread of democracy and freedom through the world.

“Today people often come together in places like this to remember history, not to make it. After all, we face no concrete walls, no barbed wire. There are no tanks poised across the border. There are no visits to fallout shelters,” Obama said. “And so sometimes there can be a sense that the great challenges have somehow passed. And that brings with it a temptation to turn inward, to think of our own pursuits and not the sweep of history, to believe that we’ve settled history’s accounts, that we can simply enjoy the fruits won by our forebears.”

The president said people should reject that urge.

“But I come here today, Berlin, to say complacency is not the character of great nations,” he said. “Today’s threats are not as stark as they were half a century ago. But the struggle for freedom and security and human dignity, that struggle goes on.”

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