Obama at COP26: ‘We can’t afford anybody on the sidelines’

Ex-President of the United States Barack Obama delivered an inspiring speech at the climate summit in Glasgow stressing the only way to tackle climate change is by doing it together

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Ex-President of the United States Barack Obama was met with cheers and admiration, as he gave his highly anticipated speech on climate change at the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow today.

“We can’t afford anybody on the sidelines.”

That was the main message he delivered – highlighting the necessity for worldwide togetherness and collaboration if the climate crisis has any chance of being averted.

He offered a review of the progress or lack thereof since he left his post as President almost five years ago.

“Collectively and individually, we are still falling short. We have not done nearly enough to address this crisis,” he claimed.

“We are going to have to do more and whether that happens or not, to a large degree, is gonna depend on you. Not just those of us in this room but anybody who’s watching or reading a transcript of what I say here today.”

Obama did note some of the success that has come out of the Paris Agreement – including the vast amount of net zero targets set by businesses, countries and cities since 2015 – but did not turn down the opportunity to blame his successor Donald Trump for the lack of progress from an American standpoint.

“Back in the United States, some of our progress stalled when my successor decided to unilaterally pull out of the Paris Agreement in his first year in office, I wasn’t really happy about that – and yet, the determination of our state and local governments, along with the regulations and investment that my administration had already put in place, allowed our country to keep moving forward.”

Trump was not his only focus when it came to key global figures that he felt were either not taking climate change seriously or threatening the chance of finding a solution.

He openly criticised the lack of action from both Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping: “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. Their national plans so far, reflect what appears to be a dangerous lack of urgency,” he remarked.

The involvement of every country in the process was considered critical: “We need advanced economies like the US and Europe leading on this issue. But you know the facts, we also need China and India leading on this issue. We need Russia leading on this issue, just as we need Indonesia, South Africa and Brazil leading on this issue. We can’t afford anybody on the sidelines.”

Image: UNFCCC

He stressed that the Paris Agreement “was always supposed to be a beginning, not an endpoint” in the battle against climate change and that the outcomes of events such as COP26 were the only part of the proceedings that mattered.

“So, we come now here to Glasgow, and just as was true with the Paris Agreement, there is good news and bad news about what has happened here this past week,” he explained.

He said the good news was “countries around the world recognising this is a decisive decade to avoid a climate disaster and setting some really important goals for 2030.”

He also touched upon the agreements to reduce methane emissions and deforestation as key areas of positivity. He labelled these “significant accomplishments” and stressed they need to be celebrated.

Their celebrations were to be taken within reason, however, as he stressed: “this progress is partial, most nations have failed to be as ambitious as they need to be.”

“There is one thing that should transcend our day-to-day politics and normal geopolitics – and that is climate change.”

He finished his speech, calling for more to be done to educate those who are less willing to accept climate change: “to build the broad-based coalitions necessary for bold action, we have to persuade people who either currently don’t agree with us or are indifferent to the issue.”

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