Obama Concedes Doubts About Climate Action Progress

'We can't afford hopelessness,' former president says as he pressures Russia, China
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Nov 8, 2021 6:40 PM CST
Obama Shares Optimism and Doubt at Climate Summit
People gather Monday in the Action Zone inside the venue for the UN climate talks in Glasgow.   (AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali)

Former President Barack Obama expressed confidence at UN climate talks Monday that the Biden administration will ultimately get its $555 billion climate package through Congress, and faulted China and Russia for what he called a "dangerous lack of urgency" in cutting their own climate-wrecking emissions. As nations complained of lagging trust and progress in the climate talks, Obama, one of the leaders who paved the way for the historic 2015 Paris climate deal, threw in a touch of his trademark hope but admitted that "images of dystopia" were creeping into his dreams, the AP reports.

"There are times where the future seems somewhat bleak. There are times where I am doubtful that humanity can get its act together before it's too late," Obama said at the two-week-long negotiations in Glasgow, Scotland. "(But) we can't afford hopelessness." His comments came as conference leaders acknowledged Monday that many sticking points exist after a week of talks. A trust gap between rich and poor nations has again emerged, and developing countries used the word "disappointing" when leaders talked Monday about the progress so far in the talks.

The climate conference is Obama's first since the 2015 Paris climate accord, when nations committed to cutting fossil fuel and agricultural emissions fast enough to keep the Earth's warming below catastrophic levels of 1.5 degrees Celsius. Obama's appearance sought to remind governments of the elation that surrounded the Paris accord and urge them to announce more immediate, concrete steps to put that deal into action. Unity is required, he said. "It doesn’t matter if you’re a Republican or a Democrat if your Florida house is flooded by rising seas, or your crops fail in the Dakotas, or your California house is burning. Nature, physics, science—they don’t care about party affiliation," Obama said.

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And while the rapport between US and Chinese negotiators paved the way to the Paris accord, Obama on Monday criticized Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin for not joining other leaders in Glasgow, per the AP. "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," Obama said.

(Read more UN climate summit stories.)

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