Upon reception of his Nobel Peace Prize on Dec 10, 2009, US President Barack H. Obama held a remarkable lecture on many accounts, e.g. his references throughout what he said and his willingness to discuss hope and religion. What he said will most certainly draw very diverse reactions, particularly his willingness to face squarely the reality of war as inevitable under certain circumstances, as well as the rules to wage war.
Here, I just want to focus on two aspects of the talk that seem important amidst environmental challenges such as global climate change. He addresses the issue directly in a small paragraph that relates to the security issues involved with development, food, water, medicine, education and job availability. B. Obama says: “And that is why helping farmers feed their people – or nations educate their children and care for the sick – is not mere charity. It is also why the world must come together to confront climate change. There is little scientific dispute that if we do nothing, we will face more drought, famine and mass displacement that will fuel more conflict for decades. For this reason, it is not merely scientists and activists who call for swift and forceful action – it is military leaders in my country and others who understand that our common security hangs in the balance.” B. Obama emphasizes the security issues regarding climate change. I agree that is an important element in the discussion, and I have not seen many military issues discussed at COP15, although obviously amongst the consequences of climate change we will find great societal and social disruption and unrest. One could argue that B. Obama does not point out that there is an even much larger security issue facing us: the security of the planet itself is at risk and the consequences of climate change concern the very survival of the human race and of life on the planet as a whole.
The second aspect I want to highlight in B. Obama’s address is his clear focus on his responsibilities as head of a state and, therefore, as responsible for his nation. This is most understandable, of course, but one keeps wondering how the responsibilities of a head of state relate to the concern and the care for the planet as a whole. There is need for worldwide leadership beyond national leadership. This tension is very present in the Bella Center: nations, diplomats, ministers and heads of state stand for their own nations’ interests and needs and they enter into economic and political competition as planetary resources are concerned. The poor and weak who suffer the consequences of a lack of worldwide leadership, remind us of the necessity and urgency of a broader scope than the mere nation.