Interior Secretary Salazar in Copenhagen: "We must plan for the realities of a changing climate"

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In Copenhagen, Denmark, yesterday (10 December 2009), the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Interior, Ken Salazar, said "we must plan for the realities of a changing climate, and protect ourselves and our world against its impacts."

Secretary of the Interior, Ken SalazarSalazer said:

Carbon pollution is putting our world – and our way of life – in peril. 

The places we love… the resources on which we rely… the peoples of the world who are most vulnerable… are all at risk if we do not act...

Climate change is affecting every corner of the American continent.  It’s making droughts drier and longer, floods more dangerous, and hurricanes more severe.

You can see the changes in the land.  The glaciers in Montana’s Glacier National Park are melting so fast they're expected to disappear in the next two decades.  The world’s first wildlife refuge – Florida’s Pelican Island, which President Teddy Roosevelt set aside in 1903 – is being consumed by rising seas. 

Pelican Island in Florida, America's first National Wildlife Refuge designated by President Teddy Roosevelt in 1903. "I am here today in Copenhagen on behalf of President Obama to deliver a simple message:  the United States of America understands the danger that climate change poses to our world and we are committed to confronting it," Salazar said.  He added "[w]e must manage our lands and oceans for these three new functions - renewable energy production, carbon capture and storage, and climate adaptation."

Salazar described steps that are being implemented at the Department of Interior:

Since January, we at the Department of the Interior have built a coordinated strategy for managing the impacts of climate change on our land, water, marine, fish and wildlife, cultural heritage and tribal resources.

We recognize that effects of climate change aren’t limited to any one national park, wildlife refuge, or Indian reservation – they are felt over broad landscapes.  Entire wildlife corridors are changing.  Shifting precipitation patterns are being felt up and down the seven-state Colorado River basin.  And rising sea levels are affecting communities along all coasts.

That’s why the Department of the Interior’s climate change adaptation strategy is organized around landscape-scale partnerships.

Eight DOI Climate Change Response Centers will synthesize existing climate change impact data and management strategies, help resource managers put them into action on the ground, and engage the public through education initiatives. 

And across the United States, we are standing up a network of Landscape Conservation Cooperatives that – together with other federal agencies, local and state partners, and the public - will craft practical, landscape-level strategies for managing climate change impacts.  Working with Climate Change Response Centers, the cooperatives will focus on impacts that typically extend beyond the borders of any single National Wildlife Refuge, BLM unit, or National Park, including invasive species, fire, drought, wildlife, and changing water supplies.  We know that no one government or no one landowner alone can solve these problems.

We have to work beyond man-made borders and political jurisdictions. 

The same is true for protected areas. The planet has around 100,000 areas - covering approximately 12 percent of the world’s landmass - that protect much of our world’s natural heritage.  There is a growing awareness around the world that these wild lands are indispensable in the battle against the impacts of climate change.  They form the backbone of our efforts to preserve the world’s biodiversity and play vital roles in carbon storage, clean water, and endangered species preservation.

We can’t afford to let these lands disappear.  Through the use of landscape and seascape-level conservation initiatives, we will strengthen the connectivity and resiliency of our parks and protected areas and the wildlife and ecosystem services they support.  These efforts will prove critical.

Regarding those who deny that climate change is happening, who see no urgency in reducing emissions or in preparing for the impacts of climate change, Salazar said: 

Now, there are some out there who do not share our vision for American leadership in the clean energy economy.  They defend the status quo.  They proclaim the path ahead is too costly…too uncertain. Some do not even accept that climate change is real.  The cynics share a fear of what lies beyond the horizon. 

But they are wrong.  Their fear is misplaced.

For the miles we have tread in the last year allow us now to see over the horizon into a new energy frontier filled with opportunity and prosperity.

To get there, we have to keep going.

The international agreements that our nations are working toward here in Copenhagen will propel all of us forward in the clean energy economy. 

So too, will the comprehensive clean energy legislation that is moving through the United States Congress.

The House has already passed a bill.  The Senate has made historic progress on its version.  And President Obama and I and other members of his Cabinet are working closely to see to it that the job gets done. 

Clean energy legislation will trigger a massive new investment in renewable energy, energy efficiency, and carbon capture and sequestration technologies.  It will level the playing field for new technologies by putting a price on carbon through pollution limits.  And it will send the signal to industry and the world that the United States will be a partner in tackling climate change.

We will pass this bill.  We will build a clean energy future.  We will establish a comprehensive international framework to tackle climate change.

I know we will do these things because I know the strength of President Obama’s leadership.  I know the determination of the American people.  And I know that the love of children and grandchildren can inspire people to do great things together.

There is a Native American proverb that many people know that says: “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.”

May that lesson give us courage to forge a new future for ourselves and our planet.

For as President Obama said as he was sworn into office: “the world has changed, and we must change with it.”

That is the promise he made.  That is the promise we will keep.

For full remarks, see Secretary Salazar Outlines Vision for New Energy Future at UN Conference on Climate Change, press release (10 December 2009) from U.S. Department of Interior. Alternatively, watch the video.

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