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Obama says world ‘nowhere near’ done on climate action


Former President Obama touted international climate progress at the COP26 climate summit on Monday, but warned that “we are nowhere near where we need to be yet.”

“Meaningful progress has been made since Paris,” Obama told world leaders, adding, “Thanks to your efforts here in Glasgow, we see the promise of further progress.”

However, the 44th president told those gathered at the United Nations summit that “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, and not just those of you in this room but anybody who’s watching or reading a transcript of what I say here today,” he added.

Obama added that one of the major goals of the Paris Agreement negotiated during his administration had been to spur private-sector action, noting that as of 2021, 20 percent of the world’s largest companies have set net-zero emissions targets.

Private industry is taking such steps, he said, “not just because it’s the right thing to do for the environment but because in many cases … it makes sense for their bottom line.”

The former president conceded that he “wasn’t real happy about” then-President Trump unilaterally exiting the Paris Agreement, but pointed to the work by local and state governments to advance the pact’s goals even after the U.S. left.

“The ball had been rolling and it didn’t stop,” he said. “Despite four years of active hostility to 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.”

Obama went on to praise ambitious emissions reductions targets from the U.K. and the European Union, saying, “The U.S. is back, and in moving more boldly the U.S. is not alone.”

He also hailed the climate provisions contained in Democrats’ $1.75 trillion spending bill, which he said he was “confident” will pass Congress in the coming weeks. A smaller $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package passed the House Friday night after passing the Senate in August.

Obama said the “bad news” is that “we are nowhere near where we need to be yet,” singling out the absence of leaders from China and Russia — the No. 1 and No. 4 emitters globally — from the conference. This, he said, demonstrated a “dangerous lack of urgency” and “willingness to maintain the status quo.”

“We need advanced economies like the U.S. and Europe leading on the issue, but you know the facts; we also need China and India leading on this issue,” he said. “We can’t afford anybody on the sidelines.”

U.S. climate envoy John Kerry has repeatedly said China must contribute more to emissions reductions for international efforts to be successful. Meanwhile, during the first week of the summit, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a goal of net-zero emissions by 2070.

“Whenever I feel … despondency I remind myself that cynicism is the recourse of cowards,” Obama said. “We can’t afford hopelessness. Instead, we are going to have to muster the will and the passion and the activism of citizens pushing governments, companies and everyone else to meet this challenge.”