Reaction to Obama Speech at Opening of COP21

Obama gives a moving address at the opening of COP21

In a moving address at the opening session to the 21st Session of the Conference of the Parties (COP21), president Obama called on world leaders and delegates assembled in the plenary hall at Le Bourget for resolve in the coming two weeks of negotiations, keeping in mind the long-term implications of the results.

“Our generation may not even live to see the full realization of what we do here,” Obama said at the close of his speech. “But the knowledge that the next generation will be better off for what we do here – can we imagine a more worthy reward than that?”

Summoning the unprecedented momentum going into the start of COP21, Obama joins nearly 150 other heads-of-state at COP21 intent on seeing the ambition translate into a global climate pact.

By afternoon, the “Blue Zone” at COP21 was buzzing with activity reporting this historic gathering of leaders in common resolve. A 2:30 press conference held by the US Climate Action Network allowed leaders for several different US-based NGOs to offer their reactions to Obama’s speech earlier in the day.

Here is a sampling:

May Boeve, executive director of, said the speech shows that the president is “clearly serious about climate change,” unlike the Obama of six years ago, Boeve added.

She said that momentum and political will within the U.S. continues to build, citing three key points feeding this momentum:

  1. The September 2014 people’s climate march in 2014
  2. Hundreds of cities across the U.S. adopting their own climate action agendas
  3. Obama’s rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline

Obama’s speech reflects the “historic movement in the climate change issue.”

Fresh Energy

J. Drake Hamilton of Minnesota-based NGO Fresh Energy said the US finally has “street cred” at the negotiations.

Part of the U.S.’ newly found street cred is the Clean Power Plan recently mandated by the US EPA. Hamilton referred to Xcel Energy, Minnesota’s largest power utility. First saying the plan would devastate the company, Xcel has turned course and is now”completely on board.”

The economics of clean energy is clearly the better route, “demonstrates the need to continue ratcheting up ambition.”


Director of the NAACP Environmental and Climate Justice Program, Jacqui Patterson expressed gratitude for Obama’s commitment to climate change, but cautioned that “the devil is in the details,” saying that “processes and definitions” are key to an effective climate agreement in Paris.

Union of Concerned Scientists

Alden Meyer, Director of Policy and Strategy for the Union of Concerned Scientists said that “Obama gets it.” An agreement at COP21 is “virtually certain,” Alden said, but said how effective that agreement will be is certainly still in play.

He applauded Obama’s acknowledgement of US responsibility for creating the problem, as well as embracing solutions to fix it.

Seizing the opportunity

With climate change comes “dire consequences” and “great opportunity,” Obama said in his speech.

The focus in the first official day at COP21 is on the opportunity.

Full text of Obama’s speech


Image credit: Voice of America

Thomas Schueneman
Thomas Schueneman
Tom is the founder and managing editor of and the PlanetWatch Group. His work appears in Triple Pundit, Slate, Cleantechnia, Planetsave, Earth911, and several other sustainability-focused publications. Tom is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists.

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