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Obama Urges Other Nations To Take Action On Climate Change

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

President Obama wound up his three-day visit to Paris, where he attended the United Nations climate conference. During his trip, he also focused on terrorism. NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson reports that in a news conference before he left France, the president tried to justify his approach to both problems.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: The president said great nations can handle a lot at once. The United States had to fight climate change at the same time it confronted terrorism because, Mr. Obama said, climate change affects all trends.

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BARACK OBAMA: Before long, we are going to have to devote more and more and more of our economic and military resources not to growing opportunity for our people but to adapting to the various consequences of a changing planet. This is an economic and security imperative that we have to tackle now.

LIASSON: The president said his goal was to get an agreement that would give the world confidence in a low-carbon future, and he wanted regular binding reviews that could ratchet up the climate targets if necessary. Mr. Obama said he was confident the 180 countries represented in Paris could solve the climate problem.

As for the civil war in Syria, he was less optimistic. Despite a meeting with Russian president Vladimir Putin in Paris, President Obama has not been able to convince the Russians to start focusing on targeting ISIS instead of the moderate rebels fighting against Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad.

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OBAMA: I don't expected that their - you're going to see a 180 turn on their strategy over the next several weeks. They have invested four years now in keeping Assad in power. Their presence there is predicated on propping him up.

LIASSON: Like climate change, fighting ISIS involves assembling an international coalition filled with countries that would rather let the U.S. do all the heavy lifting. On climate change, the President is also facing an opposition Congress that's working to derail and defund his climate change initiatives.

Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell is warning that the next president, if he's a Republican, would undo whatever President Obama accomplishes in Paris. Obama said, to laugher, that he was anticipating a Democratic successor, but...

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OBAMA: Even if somebody from a different party succeeded me, one of the things that you find is, when you're in this job, you think about it differently than when you're just running for the job.

LIASSON: And then, he said...

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OBAMA: Your credibility and America's ability to influence events depends on taking seriously what other countries care about.

LIASSON: Translation - even if some Republicans don't believe in climate change or its human causes, the rest of the world does, and that's the main message the president said he wants to send about climate change.

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OBAMA: It's a problem that, by definition, is just about the hardest thing for any political system to absorb because the effects are gradual. They're diffuse. People don't feel it immediately, and so there's not a lot of constituency pressure on politicians to do something about it right away.

LIASSON: It's hard to come up with a tougher or more consequential problem than climate change, the president said, and the same thing is true for terrorism. Mara Liasson, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.