Obama: Climate action 'nowhere near' enough despite progress at Cop26

Former US president condemns lack of urgency from absent Russian and Chinese leaders

The world is falling short of the action required on climate change and is “nowhere near where we need to be” despite progress made at the Cop26 talks in Glasgow, former US president Barack Obama has said.

He used a speech to delegates on Monday to condemn a “dangerous lack of urgency” from Russia and China, whose leaders did not attend the summit.

Mr Obama, who took the US into the Paris Agreement in 2015, said some meaningful progress had been made since then. But many countries had not been ambitious enough and missed the targets set in Paris, he said.

“Important work has been done here. That is the good news,” he told delegates in Glasgow after agreements were reached to curb deforestation, methane emissions and the use of coal power.

“Now for the bad news: We are nowhere near where we need to be yet. For starters, despite the progress that Paris represented, most countries have failed to meet the action plans that they set six years ago.

“We have not done nearly enough to address this crisis. We are going to have to do more.”

The 44th US president, who was born in Hawaii, appealed for world leaders to listen to vulnerable low-lying islands that face rising sea levels.

He said island nations were the “canary in the coal mine” that heralded danger to the rest of the world if global warming was not acted upon.

“It’s a reminder that if you want to paddle a canoe, you’d better all be rowing in the same direction at the same time,” Mr Obama said.

His address came on a day of talks dedicated to protecting vulnerable areas from climate change that may be too late to prevent. Britain announced a £274 million ($370m) package to help countries adapt.

In his main speech, Mr Obama said Cop26 had brought some meaningful accomplishments which should be celebrated.

The pledges made in Glasgow are aimed at meeting the Paris Agreement goal of limiting global warming to below 2°C, or preferably 1.5°C.

Mr Obama welcomed the passage of a bill in the US Congress which puts money towards electric charging infrastructure.

“As the world’s second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, the US has to lead. We have enormous responsibilities,” he said.

But he bemoaned the opposition to climate action from many of his political opponents in the US, including his successor Donald Trump.

Mr Trump withdrew the US from the Paris Agreement. Current President Joe Biden, Mr Obama’s former vice president, reversed that decision on his first day in office.

Mr Obama faulted China and Russia for failing to bring climate plans to the summit.

Both countries have set 2060 as the date for carbon neutrality, but neither Russian President Vladimir Putin nor Chinese leader Xi Jinping attended the talks in Glasgow.

“I have to confess, it was particularly discouraging to see the leaders of two of the world's largest emitters – China and Russia – decline to even attend the proceedings,” Mr Obama said.

“Their national plans reflect what appears to be a dangerous lack of urgency and willingness to maintain the status quo on the part of those governments.”

Mr Obama said it was up to citizens, led by young campaigners, to put pressure on politicians to take the necessary action.

Although Mr Obama no longer holds any elected office, he is widely admired around the world and his words carry significant political weight.

“I am a private citizen now, so trips like this feel a little bit different than they used to. I don’t get invited to the big group photo,” he said.

“But even though I’m not required to attend summits like this anymore, old habits die hard, and when the issue at hand is the health of our planet… then you will have a hard time keeping me away.”

Updated: November 8th 2021, 6:15 PM
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