Courting big business in Asia, Obama presses for action to finish global climate pact

MANILA, Philippines – Aggressive action to fight climate change will be a boon for businesses in Asia and beyond, President Barack Obama is asserting as he reaches for a global climate change agreement he hopes will burnish his environmental legacy.

World leaders are just weeks away from a deadline for an unprecedented carbon-reducing deal that environmentalists say offers the last, best hope to avert the worst effects of climate change. At a meeting of chief executives in Manila Wednesday, Obama sought to build momentum toward that still-unfinished agreement, as he prepares to travel to Paris in late November for the deal’s long-awaited conclusion.

In the Southeast Asian capital, Obama urged business leaders to reduce emissions in their operations and use their sway to pressure governments to sign on to the international pact.

“Your businesses can do right by your bottom lines and by our planet and future generations,” the president said. “The old rules that said we can’t grow our economy and protect our environment at the same time — those are outdated.”

Joining Obama on stage were Jack Ma, chairman of the Chinese e-commerce company Alibaba, and Aisa Mijeno, whose startup called Salt sells low-cost lamps that run on salt water.

Although Obama said no nation is immune to climate change’s consequences, he added that the Asia-Pacific region is particularly affected because of its low-lying islands. He said that without action to curb emissions, businesses will make less money amid economic disruptions and diminished agricultural production.

“We have to come together around an ambitious framework,” Obama said of the emerging climate pact.

The CEOs gathered on the sidelines of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, an annual forum for 21 member nations typically used to hash out the region’s overlapping economic interests.

This year, security issues seeped onto the agenda. In the wake of the deadly attacks in Paris, talk of a response and of ways to contain the spread of Islamic radicalism filled both the formal meetings and hallway discussions during Obama’s week of summits that began Sunday in Turkey.

But while Obama privately discussed ways of increasing pressure on the Islamic State group, he came to Manila ready to use his public spotlight to zero in on the landmark climate deal. The president has made the issue a top priority as his term in office winds down. With no hope for passing legislation through Congress, he has shifted to international lobbying.

The White House points to some success. On his last trip through Asia, Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping issued a joint declaration that set a 2030 deadline for carbon emissions to stop rising in China. The deal seemed to mark a shift in China’s approach to carbon reduction, and a diplomatic win for the president.

As for the broader agreement in Paris, some critics say that in an effort to clinch a deal Obama and U.S. negotiators have already acquiesced to an accord that will be too weak to prevent the worst effects of climate change. The White House says it’s searching for “significant commitments” that will ratchet up over time. The U.S. has pushed for each nation’s contribution to be revisited every five years.

“It’s going to require countries making good on promises to cut carbon pollution, and to doing so in a transparent, verifiable manner,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said as Obama left Washington for a string of stops in Turkey and Asia. “That is our goal.”

In Washington, the Senate approved two GOP-sponsored resolutions disapproving of Obama’s plan to force steep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions from U.S. power plants and rendering the rules inoperative. Both measures were narrowly approved under a little-used law that allows Congress to block executive actions it considers onerous with simple majority votes. The manoeuvr is subject to a presidential veto and has rarely been successful in overturning executive branch rules.

In Asia, Obama also plans to press his global lobbying campaign on another front. The president met with leaders from the 11 other countries backing the Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade deal and urged them to ratify it “as quickly as possible.”


Associated Press writer Josh Lederman contributed to this report.