The US is back, Obama says as he takes a swipe at China and Russia

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Former US president Barack Obama gives a speech during the Cop26 summit (Jane Barlow/PA) (PA Wire)
Former US president Barack Obama gives a speech during the Cop26 summit (Jane Barlow/PA) (PA Wire)

Barack Obama has said the US is back in the fight against climate change as he took a swipe at the leaders of Russia and China for not being at Cop26.

The former US president said the US is now “moving more boldly” after fours years of “active hostility” from the administration of Donald Trump.

In a speech to the global gathering in Glasgow Mr Obama said: “The US is back. And in moving more boldly, the US is not alone.”

He said he was discouraged by the Russian and Chinese governments, whose leaders have not attended the conference.

Some of our progress stalled when my successor decided to unilaterally pull out of the Paris Agreement

Barack Obama

He said: “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, and 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.

“That’s a shame.”

Mr Obama said “we need” China, India and Russia leading on the issue of climate change, “just as we need Indonesia and South Africa and Brazil leading on this issue – we can’t afford to have anyone on the sidelines”.

The former president said he “wasn’t real happy” about the decision of his successor Donald Trump to pull the US out of the Paris climate agreement.

“Some of our progress stalled when my successor decided to unilaterally pull out of the Paris Agreement in his first year in office,” he said.

“I wasn’t real happy about that.”

He added: “Despite four years of active hostility towards climate science coming from the very top of our federal government, the American people managed to still meet our original commitment under the Paris Agreement.”

Time is running out to deal with climate change, he added.

He said: “We have not done nearly enough to address this crisis, we are going to have to do more, and whether that happens or not to a large degree is going to depend on you – not just you in this room, but anybody who’s watching or reading a transcript of what I’m saying here today.”

Earlier, Mr Obama told a Cop26 meeting on island resilience that island nations are the “canaries in the coalmine” of climate change and are sending a message on the need for urgent action.

Mr Obama, who arrived in Glasgow on Sunday night, said larger nations should shoulder more of the burden of fixing the climate crisis and not enough has been done to combat the issue.

He said: “In many ways, islands are the canary in the coalmine in this situation.

“They are sending a message now that if we don’t act then it’s going to be too late.”

The Hawaiian native said he is an “island kid” and ended his speech quoting a Hawaiian saying which he said roughly translates as “unite to move forward”.

He is expected to attend several events on Monday.

Earlier, Cop26 president Alok Sharma said countries must deliver on commitments made in the past week.

Ministers are arriving for the political stage of the negotiations after leaders and countries signed up to a range of initiatives last week from tackling deforestation to curbing coal power and cutting methane to prevent dangerous global warming.

Mr Sharma said finding consensus among almost 200 countries – needed for agreement under the UN climate system – was not going to be straightforward but progress last week demonstrated a “constructive spirit” among negotiators.

The announcements countries made last week are not necessarily included in their national plans for action this decade. This leaves the world far off track on meeting the internationally agreed goal of trying to limit global warming to 1.5C to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

Negotiators are trying to hammer out a “cover decision” from Glasgow that will set out how countries will close the gap between the action plans to cut emissions in this decade and what is needed to avoid temperature rises of more than 1.5C.

Alok Sharma (Hannah McKay/PA) (PA Wire)
Alok Sharma (Hannah McKay/PA) (PA Wire)

Vulnerable countries are pushing for nations to revisit their plans, known as nationally determined contributions (NDCs), annually to close the gap, but others are pushing back against speeding up the process from its five-yearly cycle.

Mr Sharma said: “Here in Glasgow we have a unique opportunity to reach a historic outcome and I am committed to bringing countries together to forge an agreement that means we see more action this decade, which helps to keep the 1.5C temperature limit within reach.”

He said there was a need for urgency in the negotiations and warned: “Last week countries made commitments which will all help to protect our planet but they must be delivered on and accounted for.”

Making sure countries increase ambition this decade is one of the issues up for debate, along with finance for poorer countries to develop cleanly and cope with climate impacts, and funding for them to deal with loss and damage.

Ministers also need to hammer out the last parts of the Paris Agreement – under which countries agreed in 2015 to limit temperature rises to “well below” 2C, or 1.5C to prevent the worst impacts of warming – to make it operational.

(PA Graphics) (PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics) (PA Graphics)

On Monday, countries will meet for a presidency update on the past week and progress of the negotiations.

Mr Sharma said that on Monday the spotlight would be on those nations that were most vulnerable – which would still suffer negative consequences from rising temperatures even if pollution stopped tomorrow – and they would be so throughout the negotiations.

“They, and the generations to come, will not forgive us if we fail to deliver in Glasgow.”

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