For the second time in three years, the Nobel Peace Prize has highlighted the importance of U.S. leadership in curbing global climate change. The message is unmistakable: our friends and allies around the world are counting on us to lead, while there's still time to act.
In 2007, the prize went to former Vice President Al Gore and the United Nations climate panel for the work both did on climate change. And on Friday, the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded this year's Peace Prize to President Barack Obama, explicitly citing his efforts to turn back climate change and deal with its effects.
"We cannot accept the growing threat posed by climate change, which could forever damage the world that we pass on to our children -- sowing conflict and famine; destroying coastlines and emptying cities," Obama said this morning at the White House in his first public comments on receiving the Peace Prize. "That's why all nations must now accept their share of responsibility for transforming the way that we use energy."
After eight costly years of inaction, the United States has begun to lead.
Since taking office in January, Obama has moved quickly to put climate change near the top of his domestic and international agenda. He's ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate carbon emissions as air pollution. He was instrumental in securing House passage of historic clean energy legislation in June; now he's rightly urging the Senate to pass a companion bill. And he's made climate change a central pillar of his foreign policy agenda, working with other nations on the issue and urging collective action at the important climate change summit in Copenhagen this December.
"Thanks to Obama's initiative, the USA is now playing a more constructive role in meeting the great climatic challenges the world is confronting," the Norwegian Nobel Committee wrote Friday in citing Obama for the Peace Prize.
The committee specifically endorsed Obama's appeal that "Now is the time for all of us to take our share of responsibility for a global response to global challenges."
Obama made those remarks in his Sept. 23 speech to the United Nations General Assembly in New York. He went on, in the very next passage, to identify those challenges, including "melting ice caps and ravaged populations," the sorry result of global climate change.
"The days when America dragged its feet on this issue are over," Obama declared, vowing to move ahead with cuts in carbon emissions, incentives for renewable energy and investments in a new generation of efficient homes, cars and workplaces.
That's exactly what the clean energy legislation before the U.S. would provide. Now the Senate needs to act. Not to please our friends and allies. Not to win a prize. But because passing this legislation will help to generate American jobs, reduce our reliance on foreign oil and create a healthier future for us all.