Barack Obama at COP26 video: what did former US president say in speech at Glasgow climate change conference?

Barack Obama spoke about the Paris Climate Agreement, Donald Trump and why young people are right to be frustrated about climate change

Last week saw world leaders, royalty and the odd Hollywood star blow into Glasgow for the COP26 summit.

Among those speaking as the climate change conference enters its second week is former US president Barack Obama.

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Obama – a veteran of the failed UN climate summit in Copenhagen and the successful meeting in Paris which secured the world’s first comprehensive climate treaty – is attending a series of events in Glasgow.

On Monday 8 November he did a speech laying out the progress made in the five years since the Paris Agreement took effect.

He will also meet young leaders attending COP26 to discuss how their generation is leading the fight against climate change.

Here is everything you need to know about it.

What is Obama doing at COP26?

One of the major actions taken by Obama during his presidency was signing the Paris Climate Agreement in 2016.

He also put in place various other policies around climate change during his eight years in office, many of which his successor Donald Trump attempted to remove in his four-year term.

President Joe Biden began his presidency by reversing the action of the Trump administration.

At COP26, Obama will discuss the impact that young people have had on the debate around climate change and how they can best continue to have a strong impact.

Explaining why he is at the event during his speech on 8 November, Obama said he had a “hard time” staying away from COP26 in Glasgow.

“Even though I’m not required to attend summits like this any more, old habits die hard,” he told the climate change summit.

“And when the issue at hand is the health of our planet, and the world our children and our grandchildren will inherit, then you will have a hard time keeping me away.

“That’s why I’m here today.”

What did he say in his speech?

On 8 November, his first day at the climate summit, Obama delivered a speech, during which he laid out the important progress made in the five years since the Paris Agreement took effect.

‘We are nowhere near where we need to be yet’

Obama said: “When it comes to climate, time really is running out.

“You heard the same message from world leaders last week. Now that they’ve left, here’s what we can report: meaningful progress has been made since Paris.

“The agreements made here in Glasgow, thanks to so many of you – including my friend John Kerry, who is tireless with his team – thanks to your efforts here in Glasgow we see the prospect of further progress.

However he warned that we are still nowhere near where we need to be in terms of achieving climate change targets.

“What is also true is that collectively and individually, we are still falling short,” he told the audience at COP26.

“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.”

‘I wasn’t real happy about that’

Obama told delegates at the conference that he “wasn’t real happy” about former president Donald Trump’s decision 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.

“And yet, the determination of our state and local governments, along with the regulations and investment that my administration had already put in place, we were able to keep moving forward despite hostility from the White House.”

The US met its obligations under the Paris Agreement despite the tenure of Donald Trump in the White House, he said.

“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.

“And not only that, the rest of the world stayed in the deal.

“And now, with President Biden and his administration rejoining the agreement, the US government is once again engaged and prepared to take a leadership role.”

‘We can’t afford to have anyone on the sidelines’

World leaders are “nowhere near” where they need to be on climate change, Obama said.

“We are nowhere near where we need to be yet,” he said to delegates at COP26.

“For starters, despite the progress that Paris represented, most countries have failed to meet the action plans that they set six years ago, and the consequences of not moving fast enough are becoming more apparent all the time.”

He also took a swipe at the Russian and Chinese governments, who are not attending the summit.

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.

“We need advanced economies like the US and Europe leading on this issue, but you know the facts – we need China and India leading on this issue.

“We need Russia leading on this issue, just as we need Indonesia and South Africa and Brazil leading on this issue – we can’t afford to have anyone on the sidelines.”

Climate change should transcend day-to-day politics, he added, saying: “It’s not just that we can’t afford to go backward, we can’t afford to stay where we are.

“The world has to step up and it has to step up now.

“I confess I don’t have all the answers. As I’m sure is true for all of those of you out there – those of you who are steeped in this work and who are more expert than me – 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 is too late – and then images of dystopia start creeping into my dreams.

“And yet, whenever I feel such despondency, I remind myself that cynicism is the recourse of cowards.

“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.”

‘You have a right to be frustrated’

He also highlighted the leadership of young people around the globe, and urged more robust action going forward by all of us - governments, the private sector, philanthropy, and civil society.

Young people are right to be frustrated at inaction of world leaders over climate change, he said.

“My message to young people begins with acknowledging that you have a right to be frustrated.

“Folks in my generation have not done enough to deal with a potentially cataclysmic problem that you now stand to inherit.”

But, echoing advice his mother gave him, Obama said: “She’d look at me and say, ‘don’t sulk, get busy, get to work and change what needs to be changed’.

“Luckily that’s exactly what young people are doing right now.”

Young people should use their votes to pressure governments to do more on climate change, he said.

“The first and most important (action) is, if you are age eligible, to vote the issue – vote like your life depends on it because it does,” he said.

“I recognise that many young people may be cynical about politics, but the cold, hard fact is we will not have more ambitious climate plans coming out of governments unless governments feel some pressure from voters.”

‘We can’t just yell at them’

Broad-ranging action on climate change will require people to have their minds changed, he explained.

“We have to do a little more listening. We can’t just yell at them, or say they’re ignorant.

“We can’t just tweet at them, it’s not enough to inconvenience them by blocking traffic in a protest – we actually have to listen to their objections and understand the reluctance of some ordinary people to see their countries move too fast on climate change.

“We have to understand their realities and work with them so that serious action on climate change doesn’t adversely impact them.”

He added that, while there were companies looking to “make a buck” by polluting and there were people who would never be convinced of man-made climate change, “we’ve got to persuade the guy who has got to drive to his factory job every day, can’t afford a Tesla and might not be able to pay the rent or feed his family if gas prices go up”.

Where will Obama be staying?

It’s not yet confirmed how long the former politician will be staying in Scotland, but the climate summit will come to an end on 12 November; it’s likely Obama will depart at the end of the summit.

Like President Joe Biden and some other world leaders, Obama is staying in Edinburgh rather than Glasgow.

He will spend his time in Scotland at the Waldorf Astoria, The Caledonian.

The length and precise plans for the rest of his stay are unclear, including whether he will stay for leisure activities after the climate summit has formally concluded.

On his last visit to Scotland back in 2017, Obama promised to return for the “full Scottish experience”, complete with “raining and blustering” weather.

Will he meet leaders?

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said she does not “foresee” a meeting between the two – although she has met his former running mate President Joe Biden, former vice president Al Gore and German Chancellor Angela Merkel during the first week of the summit.

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