Row as One to Save our One Planet, Obama Says at Start of IUCN Congress (video)

President Obama addresses the leaders of the Pacific Islands and representatives of the IUCN Congress on climate change, his expansion of the Papahanaumokuakea National Monument and other protected areas in the U.S., and his administration’s focus on clean energy. “We’ve got to ‘unite to move forward,’” he said, quoting a traditional Polynesian saying. “We have to row as one. If we do, we might just save the one planet that we’ve got.”

Here are some excerpts:

Hosting the IUCN Congress

“I want to thank the 8,000 delegates from more than 180 countries who will share their expertise here at the IUCN World Conservation Congress [and] the world leaders and ministers who are here from the Pacific Islands Conference of Leaders. The United States is proud to host the IUCN congress for the first time,” he said.

Link Between Climate Change and Conservation

Climate change and conservation are inextricably linked, Obama noted. “Few people understand the stakes better than our Pacific Island leaders, because they’re seeing already the impact: rising sea levels and temperatures pose an existential threat to your countries. While some members of the U.S. Congress still seem to be debating whether climate change is real or not, many of you are already planning new places for your people to live…No nation, not even one as powerful as the United States is immune from a changing climate.”

Preparing for Inevitable Impact of a Warmer Planet

Obama talked about preparing for the inevitable impact as a consequence of rising temperatures. “That means conservation has been a cornerstone of my Presidency. Since taking office I have protected more than 548 million acres of our lands and waters for our children and our grandchildren. I have to say Teddy Roosevelt gets the credit for starting the National Park system, but when you include a big chunk of the Pacific Ocean, we now have actually done more acreage than any other President (applause).

“We’ve designated National Monuments from Maine to Ohio to California, and just last week, thanks to the hard work of many people in this room…I reated the world’s largest marine preserve, quadrupling the size of our monument Papahanaumokuakea. This is an area twice the size of Texas that’s going to be protected, and allows us to save and study the fragile ecosystem threatened by climate change.

Sanctity of Midway Atoll

“Tomorrow I am going to travel to the Midway atoll to see it for myself; 7,000 species live in its waters, a quarter of which are not found anywhere else in the world. Ancient islanders believed it contained the boundary between this life and the next. Hundreds of brave Americans gave their lives there in defense of the world’s freedom. So this is a hallowed site, and it deserves to be treated that way, ansd from now on it will be preserved for future generations.”

Everyone Has a Role

When it comes to climate change, there is a dire possibility of us getting off course, and we can’t allow that to happen,” the President said. “That’s why our united efforts are so important. Government has a role to play, but so do scientists and inventors and investors, all working to revolutionize clean energy production. Entrepreneurs and academics and leaders in this room are collaborating across continents. And everyday citizens of the world are going to have to push their own communities to adopt smarter practices, and to push those of us in positions of power to be less concerned with special interests and more concerned about the judgment of future generations.”

Personal Connection

Obama spoke of how he had been born, attended school, and spent much of his early life within a few miles of where he was making his speech. Since his daughters were born he had brought his family to Hawaii for every Christmas. “And I want to make sure that when they’re bringing their children here, or their grandchildren here, that they are able to appreciate the wonders and the beauty of this island and of the Pacific, and every island. So I know you have the same feeling, and that’s why we’ve got to ‘unite to move forward.’ We have to row as one. If we do, we might just save the one planet that we’ve got.”

Changing Planet


Meet the Author
More than forty years in U.S., UK, and South African media gives David Max Braun global perspective and experience across multiple storytelling platforms. His coverage of science, nature, politics, and technology has been published/broadcast by the BBC, CNN, NPR, AP, UPI, National Geographic, TechWeb, De Telegraaf, Travel World, and Argus South African Newspapers. He has published two books and won several journalism awards. In his 22-year career at National Geographic he was VP and editor in chief of National Geographic Digital Media, and the founding editor of the National Geographic Society blog, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society's mission and initiatives. He also directed the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship, awarded to Americans seeking the opportunity to spend nine months abroad, engaging local communities and sharing stories from the field with a global audience. A regular expert on National Geographic Expeditions, David also lectures on storytelling for impact. He has 120,000 followers on social media: Facebook  Twitter  LinkedIn