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Robert Redford will be speaking at U.N. General Assembly on Monday

Climate change is defining environmental issue of our time, Redford says

Editor’s Note: Robert Redford is an actor, director and environmental advocate. The views expressed are his own.

CNN —  

On Monday, I’ll have the honor of addressing U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and representatives from 193 countries gathered at U.N. headquarters in New York to call for immediate action on global climate change.

This meeting is part of a growing groundswell being felt throughout the world with citizens, cities, religious leaders, corporations and nations demanding real action. And when world leaders meet in Paris this December, the world will be watching.

I believe climate change is the defining environmental issue of our time. It’s hurting our people – around the world – and it’s time to stand up and say we’ve had enough. Enough of rising seas and widening deserts that threaten our homes and our crops. Enough of withering drought and blistering heat that mean more malnutrition and disease. Enough of raging floods, wildfires and storms that threaten people everywhere with one disaster after another.

Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for Sundance Film Festival

We’ve got a real chance in Paris to come together and do something about it. But getting it done, and doing it right, will require a powerful public outcry. It’s happening. It’s building.

We know what’s driving the problem, and we know what to do about it. When we burn coal, oil and natural gas, we choke our atmosphere with the dangerous carbon pollution that’s driven global temperatures up about 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit in a little more than a century.

That might not sound like much, but it’s already melted about third of the Arctic sea ice in recent decades. That’s a global change that has global impacts on temperatures, ocean currents and salinity levels. Meanwhile, this carbon pollution has raised the acidity levels of the world’s oceans, threatening shellfish and the coral reefs that support foundational life at sea.

Every day we don’t act, the crisis gets worse – and the cost of inaction goes up. But there are three things that we can do as a global community.

We have to clean up our dirty power plants; invest in energy efficiency, so we can do more with less waste; and get more of our electricity from the wind and sun.

We’re making real progress. Now it’s time to step up the game and expand our team.

President Barack Obama has pledged to cut our carbon pollution and others of the so-called greenhouse gases that are warming our planet by up to 28% over the next 10 years.

That’s a good start, and our friends around the world are watching.           

The European Union has promised 40% cuts by 2030. China – the world’s largest producer of greenhouse gases – has said it will cap its emissions by 2030 and begin reducing them from there. Mexico, India and other countries are stepping up to the plate as well.

That’s the kind of global groundswell we’ll need to set the stage for success in Paris. But let’s not kid ourselves. Time is running out. 

Last year was the hottest since we began taking global measurements 135 years ago. The 16 hottest years on record have all occurred since 1997. As Pope Francis has told us, we have a moral obligation to be responsible stewards of the earth and all it supports. That means protecting future generations from the dangers of climate change. 

I know the fossil fuel industry and its political cronies are saying the Pope’s no expert on science.

Please.

The science speaks for itself. We know what’s happening to the planet. The question is, what are we going to do about it? The Pope’s an expert on belief and conscience. It’s time to stand up for what we believe. The fact is climate change is a moral imperative.

I’ve been at this for a long time now.

Nearly 30 years ago, in fact, when the United States and the Soviet Union were still Cold War archrivals, I helped convene a summit where top policymakers and scientists from both countries agreed that we needed to cut carbon pollution. 

That was decades ago, and we’ve been waiting for real action ever since. Today, though, I’m more optimistic than ever. 

Obama understands the stakes in this for our country. Our best business minds grasp the historic opportunity for us to lead the world in the clean energy economy of tomorrow. And a new American generation understands the urgency of acting now. 

These kids aren’t sitting around arguing about whether climate change is real. They can read the handwriting on the wall

They don’t want to hear a bunch of excuses from politicians who are stuck in the 1950s. They want to see their way clear to a brighter future. 

We owe them that much, and it starts right here, this week in New York, when we all have the chance to add our voice to the growing chorus for change.

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