Making investments in combating climate change will make the U.S. economy stronger and create tens of thousands of jobs, U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew said.

“The need for action is clear,” Lew said in a first-ever speech by a Treasury secretary focusing on climate change. “The world can either choose to ignore the challenge today and be forced to take more drastic action at greater cost down the road, or we can make sensible, modest and gradual changes now, and in the process create jobs, reduce business and household expenses, and drive innovation, technology and new industries.”

Lew’s remarks, delivered at a Hamilton Project Forum in Washington Monday, came ahead of the United Nations Climate Summit taking place in New York Tuesday, to be attended by President Barack Obama and more than 100 other world leaders.

The aim of the summit, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said, is to gather momentum for climate negotiations later this year and conclude them at a meeting in Paris next December. The goal is to curb the release of carbon dioxide and other warming gases so that average global temperatures don’t rise more than 2 degrees Celsius.

The UN summit took a symbolic hit after China, the world’s top carbon polluter, and India, third biggest after the U.S., decided not to send their top political leaders. That’s important because the last attempt at a global accord broke down in Copenhagen in 2009, when the talks dissolved into finger pointing between rich and poor nations over which group should move first on emissions reductions.

“We must work with other industrialized economies so that everyone is cutting carbon pollution in a sustainable way,” Lew said, according to a preview of his remarks released by the Treasury. “We must work with developing countries—many of which are the fastest-growing carbon emitters—so that as they grow, they move to cleaner energy production.”

Treasury has been supporting clean energy financing and reducing aid for coal projects at the multilateral development banks, Lew said.

“We are actively working to secure the agreement of other countries and the multilateral development banks to adopt similar policies as soon as possible,” he said.