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Remarks at Pacific Day Policy Seminar

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

I'm going for the whole thing. Sorry about that, folks. Well, good evening, everybody. How are you all? Everybody good? What a fantastic evening, and it's a great, great pleasure for me to be able to come over here and share Pacific Day. Tonight, we celebrate -- obviously or this evening, I can still say -- the critical relationships that unites all of the nations of the Pacific. And believe me, in the last few days at our conference, we've seen the power of how united the Pacific region is.

So we thank you because these partnerships were born out of a world that put us together geographically because we border on the Pacific, but it has also put us together because we have weathered wars and we have developed together and built a shared prosperity.

So I want to thank Palau's ambassador, Hersey Kyota, who invited me to come speak. I particularly want to thank New Zealand's Ambassador, Michael Moore, for hosting us. I think we all want to join together in saying thank you for his willingness us to do that. (Applause.) Oh, where is he? Hiding? (Applause.)

I want to recognize New Zealand's prime minister who is here -- he's hiding over here, right here -- John Key. Thank you so much, Mr. Prime Minister. It's an honor to be here. (Applause.) And I'm going to be meeting with him tomorrow, where we can discuss some of the issues that we'll talk about here.

I also am honored to be here with the president of Palau, Tommy Remengesau. And we also met. We had a wonderful opportunity to talk about a host of issues, but most importantly the way in which island nations are deeply threatened by climate change, rising sea levels, acidification, overfishing. And all of these were the topics of the conference that we just had in the last few days.

I want to just emphasize to everybody, America thinks of itself as a Pacific nation and is a Pacific nation proudly. We don't just border it and have an extraordinary coastline framing the Pacific, but we have been in the Pacific and in its far reaches for centuries. We also obviously went through an extraordinarily difficult period during World War II. We shed a lot of blood in the Pacific and fought hard for the ability of Pacific nations to be free to determine their own future and certainly to be able to associate and come together to protect the freedom of navigation, the freedom of commerce, and our rights as human beings.

And one of those rights is the right to be free from pollution that literally threatens nations. That is why President Obama made the strategic decision in the first term, to do what has become known as a rebalance or pivot, but I prefer a rebalance, because pivot implies we're somehow turning away from something else and we're not. But we're rebalancing so that we make certain that some people in the Pacific understand our commitment and can rely on the presence of the United States with respect to many of those issues that I just talked about.

President Obama is absolutely committed to continuing to make certain that everybody understands this rebalance is not a passing fancy, it's not a momentary thing, and in fact it has grown. We recently renegotiated a long-term defense pact with Japan. We have reaffirmed our relationship with South Korea. We have, obviously, with ASEAN and our presence in Southeast Asia as well as throughout the islands and the nations southwards to New Zealand and Australia, we've strengthened our presence there. And we are continuing and we will continue, I can guarantee you, to work to impress on people that the values that bring us together don't belong to one country. They don't belong to one nation. I would tell you that I think they are genuinely universal values, and they certainly don't belong to any ideology.

There are a huge number of issues that Pacific nations have to wrestle with as a community now, and we all have a stake in regional stability and security. The right to choose one's own government, as I said, we believe is a birthright. Economic growth is imperative for all of us. But one thing above all looms as a threat, literally, to existence, and that is the connective tissue that holds -- that connects all of us with respect to the environment and our responsibility to the ocean itself.

We just had two days of a conference in which speaker after speaker, film after film, expert after expert, scientist after scientist documented the degree to which we, mankind, are threatening ourselves as a consequence of the amount of carbon dioxide we are releasing into the atmosphere, as a result of too much money chasing too few fish, as a result of the devastating impact of pollution, run-off from development that streams out of rivers and down into the ocean so that we have over 500 dead zones. And we can unfortunately boast a big one in the Gulf of Mexico where, coming out of the Mississippi River, from the various rivers that feed into it along the way, all the way from the northern part of our country down into the south. We have runoff from agriculture, which overloads nitrates which kills the ecosystem.

This is happening, unfortunately, everywhere. The numbers of birds and fish that are found imbibing plastic, which has a 450-year life, therefore, obviously, a killer for many fowl and fish. We face an extraordinary challenge to our fishing stocks almost everywhere: some depleted, some stocks so low that they're almost extinct, and in some places fisheries that are fished to the level that they're near the possibility of collapse.

So all of what I've just said is obviously an enormous challenge and probably some of you could walk away tonight and say, "Boy, I hate to hear all those facts because I don't know what I can do about it." Well, the problem is solvable. What is shocking to me, and I think to many of us who are engaged in this effort, is the fact that it's not something we can't do something about. The solutions are staring us in the face. The solution to climate change, which we have to embrace rapidly because of the rate and pace at which coal-fired power plants are still being built -- the solution is energy policy.

And we have brave innovators and entrepreneurs who are on the cutting edge of producing alternative and renewable capacity to produce the energy that we need. Whether it's solar or wind or biomass or other forms, or even -- some people say God perish the thought because of what happened in Japan, but if you don't build on an earthquake fault and right next to the ocean, nuclear does have the ability, as we've seen in so many places, from France to the United States Navy, where we haven't lost one sailor in more than 70 years of the use of nuclear power, or had one accident on a ship. It is, because it is zero emissions, one of the alternatives we're going to have to use. And I'm confident that our scientists, as we do, will find the ways to create a fuel cycle that is unified and we can deal with the waste, and clearly we have safer and greater capacity in fourth-generation modular units.

So the solutions are there. And I just want to -- I want to leave you with just one thought, a big thought about this, which is what excites me and why I'm banging away at this. We've got to move rapidly if we're going to save some of those island. We have to be able to turn this around, and that means we're going to have to embrace very forward-leaning policies very quickly. And next year in Paris, in December, we will meet -- all of our nations of the world -- in order to try to set targets in order to be able to do what I just talked about.

But let me just tell you something. We could produce -- we're not about to, but we could produce three times the entire electricity needs of the United States of America well into the future from 100 square miles down in the New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona region. You could do it if you decided to. We could do solar-thermal, we could do other things, but we have to build the infrastructure to do these kinds of things. We have to invest in it. And that is true all around the world where people have yet to embrace the simplest forms of energy efficiency, where we could be making a different set of choices about how you price carbon and what you do.

The bottom line is this: The marketplace that made America richer than it ever imagined in the 1990s was a $1 trillion market with four -- with what, 1 billion users. One and one; $1 trillion market, 1 billion users. Every single income earner in America, every quintile of our percentage of taxpayers, from the bottom 20 percent to the top, saw their incomes go up during the course of the 1990s. We created more wealth in America because of one sector of our economy, the technology sector, that boomed, and it provided goods to those 1 billion people and became a $1 trillion market.

Well, guess what? The energy market that I am talking about today, as you look at it, is a $6 trillion market with 4 to 5 billion users, and it's going to go up to 9 billion users by 2050. It's the mother of all markets. It's the greatest opportunity to build infrastructure, build power plants that are clean, build windmills, build alternatives, to have a whole new restructuring of the goods and services that are provided to people that provide the energy of the world. And given the fact that almost half of the world still lives on about $2 a day and a huge percentage on $1 a day, the capacity for this development to change lives, save lives, reduce conflict, have an impact on security, change our ability to dream about a different kind of future is absolutely extraordinary.

So it's a beautiful evening, you came here to have fun, I don't want to go on and on tonight, but I'm just telling you, there is a solution staring us in the face, and the Pacific region, the Pacific islands can help to underscore to people what is really at stake. It's called life itself. And the irony, the horrible fact is those nations most threatened are those nations least contributing to this problem. So the developed world has an obligation to make this happen, and I look forward to working with our Kiwi friends and others and all of the Pacific islands. We're going to get this job done. Thank you for Pacific Day. Thank you for welcoming me here today. Thank you very much. (Applause.)


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