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President Barack Obama views Bear Glacier which has receded 1.8 miles in the roughly 100 years that have been recorded, during a boat tour to see firsthand the effects of climate change in Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska, Sept. 1, 2015.   (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

Climate and Energy: Combatting Global Climate Change

Protecting the Environment and Reversing Climate Change Abroad: November 2008 to January 2017

“I refuse to condemn your generation and future generations to a planet that's beyond fixing.”

From the day he first took office in January 2009 to the day he left office in January 2017, President Barack Obama believed that no challenge posed a greater threat to our children, our planet, and future generations than climate change. Indeed, as he saw it, acting on climate change was a moral obligation of the present, not a distant problem of the future. And that’s because, long before President Obama assumed office, the planet was already changing in ways that – if left unchecked – would have a profound impact on all of humankind. The scientific evidence accumulated and reviewed over the past several decades showed unequivocally that the planet was warming, primarily due to human activities over the past 50 years. As a result, summers were becoming longer and hotter. Winters were becoming shorter and warmer. Ice on land and in lakes and seas was melting. Global sea levels were rising. And from storms, hurricanes, and heavy downpours to droughts, fires, and floods, extreme weather was becoming more frequent and intense. Simply put, climate change was dramatically altering the world – and altering it in ways detrimental to life on earth. At the same time, U.S. emissions were projected to increase indefinitely when the President took office.

This timeline tells the story of how the President and his team galvanized international action to address climate change. It documents the decisions made, as well as the challenges faced, by the Administration in its efforts to protect the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the land that supports and sustains us. Above all, the timeline shows that – from leading by example at home to building a coalition abroad – the President worked diligently to bring together the nations of the world to tackle the greatest environmental challenges of our time.

  • November 18, 2008 – President-elect Obama pledged that “My presidency will mark a new chapter in America’s leadership on climate change that will strengthen our security and create millions of new jobs in the process.”
  • March 28, 2009 – President Obama announced the launch of the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate, with the goal of bringing together key developed and developing economies to engage in a meaningful dialogue on clean energy technology and the need to secure a broad international agreement to combat climate change.
  • November 17, 2009 – In a joint press statement, President Obama and President Hu of China pledged to work together toward a successful outcome at the upcoming UN climate summit in Copenhagen.
  • November 25, 2009 – The White House announced that President Obama would travel to Copenhagen on December 9 to participate in the United Nations Climate Change Conference.
  1. The White House also announced that, in the context of an overall deal in Copenhagen that included robust mitigation contributions from China and the other emerging economies, the President was prepared to put on the table a U.S. emissions reduction target in the range of 17% below 2005 levels in 2020.
  • December 2009 – President Obama travelled to the Copenhagen Climate Conference to salvage a deal, resulting in the announcement of the “Copenhagen Accord,” under which all major economies pledged action to reduce carbon emissions. Read President Obama remarks during the Plenary Session here.
  • July 19-20, 2010 – Secretary of Energy Steven Chu hosted the first Clean Energy Ministerial, a high-level global forum that promotes policies and programs aimed at improving access to energy efficiency and clean energy supplies.
  • September 22, 2010 – President Obama signed a Presidential Policy Directive on Global Development, which included the Global Climate Change Initiative (GCCI). Through the initiative the United States has integrated climate change considerations into its foreign assistance strategy to foster a low-carbon future and promote sustainable and resilient societies in coming decades. Under the initiative the United States has dramatically scaled up its foreign assistance for low carbon climate resilient initiatives, including by committing $2.5 billion to adaptation from 2010 to 2015.
  • February 16, 2012Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced the Climate and Clean Air Coalition to Reduce Short-Lived Climate Pollutants, a new global initiative aimed at achieving concrete benefits on climate, health, food and energy resulting from reducing short-lived climate pollutants.
  • June 8, 2013 – In Sunnylands, President Obama and President Xi agreed that, for the first time, the United States and China would work together and with other countries to use the expertise and institutions of the Montreal Protocol to phase down the consumption and production of climate-damaging hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), among other forms of multilateral cooperation.
  • June 25, 2013President Obama announced his Climate Action Planthe steps his Administration would take to cut carbon pollution, help prepare the United States for the impacts of climate change, and continue to lead international efforts to address global climate change. (Click on the links to see the progress made on years one, two, and three of the plan.)
  • September 4, 2013 – The United States, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden reaffirmed their partnership, including on climate change, the Arctic, and clean energy.
  1. May 13, 2016 – The United States and the Nordic countries issued a joint statement, building on their history of cooperation and reinforcing their commitment to work together on climate change, the Arctic, and clean energy.
  • September 6, 2013 – President Obama reached separate agreements with the G-20 and with China to combat global climate change by addressing the rapid growth in the use and release of HFCs.
  • October 29, 2013 – The Treasury Department announced a new step toward a cleaner energy future, ending U.S. support for multilateral development bank (MDB) funding for new overseas coal projects except in narrowly defined circumstances.
  1. Following the lead of the U.S., other nations – including the U.K., the Netherlands, and the Nordic countries – joined the initiative.
  1. America’s cars and trucks were also getting better gas mileage and using more biofuels, meaning that all together the country was not only less dependent on foreign oil but also was reducing carbon pollution.
  • November 20, 2013 – The U.S., Norway, and the U.K. launched a public-private partnership to support forests in developing countries, with the goal of reducing emissions from deforestation and promoting sustainable agriculture.
  • January 24, 2014 – The United States announced plans for a new initiative with 13 other partner countries to eliminate tariffs on environmental goods in the World Trade Organization. The countries participating in the announcement accounted for 86 percent of global trade in environmental goods, such as solar water heaters, wind turbines, and catalytic converters.
  • September 23, 2014 – At the United Nations Climate Summit, held in New York during the UN General Assembly, President Obama announced new actions to strengthen global resilience to climate change and more than a dozen new partnerships to cut carbon pollution.
  1. These actions included the Executive Order on Climate-Resilient International Development, requiring agencies to factor climate-resilience considerations systematically into the U.S. government’s international development work and to promote a similar approach with multilateral entities.
  • September 30, 2014 – During Prime Minister Modi of India’s first visit to the White House, he joined President Obama in announcing a new and enhanced strategic partnership on energy security, clean energy, and climate change.
  • November 12, 2014 – In Beijing, President Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping jointly announced new actions to reduce carbon pollution.
  1. President Obama set a new target to cut U.S. carbon pollution by 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2025.
  2. China committed to peak its CO2 emissions around 2030 while striving to peak early, and to boost its share of non-fossil fuel energy to around 20%.
  • November 15, 2014 – President Obama announced that the United States would contribute $3 billion to support the Green Climate Fund (GCF) to reduce carbon pollution and strengthen resilience in developing countries, especially the poorest and most vulnerable. The GCF aims to play an important role in improving resilience to climate impacts and addressing the security risks associated with climate change.
  • January 25, 2015 – The United States and India announced bilateral cooperation on adopting and developing clean energy solutions to help transition toward a climate-resilient, low-carbon economy.
  1. The Administration announced that it was releasing a tranche of higher-resolution elevation data for India, just as it was doing globally to help local communities mitigate the impacts of frequent river basin flooding, storm surges, and sea-level rise.
  • March, 2015 – The United States formally reported its 2025 emissions target to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), along with Mexico.
  • June 9, 2015 – Delivering on a major commitment announced by President Obama at the UN Climate Summit in New York in September 2014, the Administration launched Climate Services for Resilient Development, an international public-private partnership to empower developing nations to boost their own climate resilience.
  • June 30, 2015 – Presidents Barack Obama and Dilma Rousseff announced joint measures to intensify collaboration between the United States and Brazil, both bilaterally and under the UNFCCC, to address the challenges posed by climate change.
  • July 27, 2015 – The White House launched the American Business Act on Climate Pledge, which committed its signatories to voice support for a strong outcome in the Paris climate negotiations, to demonstrate an ongoing commitment to climate action, and to set an example for their peers.
  1. By December 1, 2015, 154 companies had signed the pledge. These companies have operations in all 50 states, employ nearly 11 million people, represent more than $4.2 trillion in annual revenue, and have a combined market capitalization of over $7 trillion.
  1. By December 10, 2015, 318 colleges and universities representing over 4 million students had made the pledge.
  • November 20, 2015Over 100 cities had pledged to create bold climate action plans as President Obama and Secretary Kerry traveled to Paris to negotiate an international climate agreement.
  • November 30-December 1, 2015 –President Obama traveled to Paris for the 21st Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (“COP 21”). These negotiations culminated in the Paris Climate Agreement. While there, the President addressed the assembled delegations held bilateral meetings with President Xi of China, Prime Minister Modi of India, and President Holland of France; and participated in several public events:
    • Mission Innovation: President Obama joined 19 other world leaders to announce “Mission Innovation,” an initiative to dramatically accelerate public and private global clean energy innovation to address global climate change, provide affordable clean energy to consumers, including in the developing world, and create additional commercial opportunities in clean energy.
    • Breakthrough Energy Coalition: Bill Gates joined the launch of Mission Innovation to announce the launch of the Breakthrough Energy Coalition – a commitment by entrepreneurs and business leaders to invest more than $1 billion in next generation technologies that provide reliable, affordable, zero-carbon energy.
    • Meeting with Island Nation Leaders: President Obama hosted a meeting with heads of state from island nations that are among the most vulnerable to the ravages of climate change. At the meeting, the President announced a contribution of $30 million to climate risk insurance initiatives in the Pacific, Central America, and Africa.
  • November 30, 2015 – The United States joined ten other countries in announcing contributions totaling $248 million to the Least Developed Countries Fund (LDCF), which aimed to play a key role in addressing urgent and immediate adaptation needs of the least developed countries
  • December 9, 2015 Secretary of State John Kerry announced that the United States would double its grant-based, public climate finance for adaptation by 2020.
  • December 12, 2015 – After years of hard work, and thanks to principled American leadership, more than 190 countries came together to adopt the most ambitious climate change agreement in history.The Paris Agreement established a long term, durable global framework to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. For the first time, all countries committed to putting forward successive and ambitious, nationally determined climate targets and reporting on their progress towards them using a rigorous, standardized process of review.
  1. March 31, 2016 – In a joint presidential statement, the United States and China pledged that they would sign the Paris Agreement on April 22 and would take the respective domestic steps to join the agreement as early as possible in 2016.
  2. April 22, 2016 – On the day that the Paris Agreement opened for signature, Secretary Kerry traveled to the United Nations where he gave remarks and participated in a high-level event promoting early entry into force (LINK TO STATEMENT).
  3. May 27, 2016 – The leaders of the G-7 met in Japan and agreed to continue taking a leadership role to secure approval of the Paris Agreement as soon as possible, with a goal of achieving entry into force in 2016.
  4. September 3, 2016 – The United States and China formally joined the Paris Agreement. (Click here for President Obama’s remarks.)
  5. September 21, 2016 – The United States worked closely with United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in support of an event celebrating countries publicly committing to join the Paris Climate Agreement before the end of 2016.
  6. October 5, 2016President Obama thanked nations across the world for working to bring the Paris Agreement into force, successfully concluding a year long, high level diplomatic effort to bring the Agreement into force faster than all but a handful of international agreements and faster than anyone expected.
  • February 8, 2016 – In Montreal, the U.S. and 22 other countries reached agreement on the first-ever global carbon standards for commercial aircraft.
  • March 10, 2016 – The United States and Canada issued a joint statement reaffirming their commitment to close cooperation on energy development, environmental protection, and Arctic leadership.
  • May 13, 2016 – Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, and the United States committed to strengthening to join and implement the Paris Agreement, accelerate the transition to a clean energy future, strengthen adaptation efforts, especially in developing countries, protect and restore forests, and continue to take science-based steps to protect the Arctic and its peoples.
  • June 2, 2016 – The United States hosted global energy leaders for the first time since the Paris Agreement at the Seventh Clean Energy Ministerial (CEM7) and the inaugural Mission Innovation (MI) Ministerial in San Francisco to scale up clean energy and drive implementation of the Paris Agreement.
  • June 7, 2016 – President Obama and Prime Minister Modi met for their third major bilateral summit, which included more progress in the areas of climate change and clean energy.
  • June 29, 2016 – In a Leaders’ Statement, President Barack Obama, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and President Enrique Peña Nieto committed to “an ambitious and enduring North American Climate, Clean Energy, and Environment Partnership that sets us firmly on the path to a more sustainable future.” The partnership included a goal for North America to achieve 50% clean power generation by 2025 and to decrease methane emissions from the oil and gas sector 40 – 45 percent by 2025.
  • September 3, 2016 – The United States formally joined the Paris Agreement, alongside China. Standing with China in a joint climate announcement, the “U.S.-China Climate Cooperation Outcomes,” the countries also committed to work together to reach an agreement on an HFC amendment to the Montreal Protocol and to adopt a market-based measure for international aviation, as well as reaffirming and strengthening climate cooperation between the two countries.
  • September 21, 2016 – President Obama signed a Presidential Memorandum on Climate Change and National Security, establishing a policy that the impacts of climate change must be considered in the development of national security-related doctrine, policies, and plans.
  • September 22, 2016 – The United States hosted a gathering in New York in which leaders from 100+ countries called for an ambitious amendment to the Montreal Protocol to phase down HFCs and in which donors announced their intent to provide $80 million in support of energy efficiency.
  • October 6, 2016191 countries agreed to adopt a global market-based measure to reduce carbon emissions from international aviation at the 39th Assembly meeting of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) in Montreal.
  • October 15, 2016 – At the 28th Meeting of the Parties to the Montreal Protocol in Kigali, Rwanda, nearly 200 countries adopted an amendment to phase down HFCs, committing to cut the production and consumption of HFCs by more than 80 percent over the next 30 years.
  • November 17, 2016 – When the Conference of the Parties to the UNFCC reconvened in Marrakesh, Morocco, delegations from around the world adopted a proclamation declaring the progress achieved over the past year indicative of “irreversible” momentum “of all types at all levels”.
“So I believe this moment can be a turning point for the world. We’ve shown that the world has both the will and the ability to take on this challenge. It won’t be easy. Progress won’t always come quick. We cannot be complacent. While our generation will see some of the benefits of building a clean energy economy -- jobs created and money saved -- we may not live to see the full realization of our achievement. But that’s okay. What matters is that today we can be more confident that this planet is going to be in better shape for the next generation. And that’s what I care about. I imagine taking my grandkids, if I’m lucky enough to have some, to the park someday, and holding their hands, and hearing their laughter, and watching a quiet sunset, all the while knowing that our work today prevented an alternate future that could have been grim; that our work, here and now, gave future generations cleaner air, and cleaner water, and a more sustainable planet. And what could be more important than that?”

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