In Asia, Obama says climate action will be good for business
MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Weeks away from a deadline, President Barack Obama sought to build momentum Wednesday for a potentially legacy-burnishing global climate change agreement by arguing that bold climate action will be a boon for businesses in Asia and around the world.
At a meeting of chief executives in this 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. Obama and dozens of other leaders are slated to convene in Paris at the end of the month to finalize the carbon-cutting deal.
"Your businesses can do right by your bottom lines and by our planet and future generations," Obama said. "The old rules that said we can't grow our economy and protect our economy the same time — those are outdated."
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 containing the spread of Islamic radicalism filled both the formal meetings and hallway chatter during Obama's week of summit that began Sunday in Turkey.
Obama told reporters Wednesday that an informal conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Turkey covered the possibility of deeper coordination with Russia in the military campaign against the Islamic State group. The discussion marked a slight shift in approach after weeks of condemning Russia's bombing campaign in Syria as chiefly aimed at propping up Syrian President Bashar Assad.
"If, in fact, he shifts his focus and the focus of his military to what is the principal threat, which is ISIL, then that is something that we very much want to see," Obama said, using an acronym for the Islamic State group. "And we will be in discussions with Moscow and Mr. Putin to see if that will continue."
But while Obama privately discusses ways of ramping up pressure on the Islamic State group, he came 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, Obama 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 in 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.
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 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 without action to curb emissions, businesses will make less money amid economic disruptions and dampened agricultural production.
"We have to come together around an ambitious framework," Obama said of the emerging climate pact.
Some critics say that in an effort to clinch a deal, Obama and U.S. negotiators have already acquiesced to an agreement 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 for a string of summits 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 maneuver is subject to a presidential veto and has rarely been successful in overturning executive branch rules.
In Asia, Obama also plans to ramp up his global lobbying campaign on another front during the trip. 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."
As with climate, Obama faces his own hurdles at home on trade. Large portions of the president's party — including the leading candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, Hillary Rodham Clinton — oppose the deal. Meanwhile, many Republicans appear willing to deviate from their past support for free trade to avoid giving Obama a major campaign-year win.
Associated Press writer Josh Lederman contributed to this report.