COP26: Barack Obama tells summit climate activists need to listen to other people’s concerns

The former US President took to the stage at the beginning of COP26 week two where he addressed delegates at the summit in Glasgow

Former US president Barack Obama has urged climate activists to “do a little more listening” to those reluctant to take action.

Obama addressed delegates at the beginning of week two of the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow.

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Speaking at Cop26 in Glasgow, President Obama told delegates it would not be enough to “inconvenience (sceptics) by blocking traffic in a protest”, and that work should be done to understand why normal people do not want to see such fast action on climate change.

At a glance: 5 key points

  • Former US president said work should be done to understand why people don’t want to see fast action on climate change
  • Obama said there were “climate deniers” who would never be convinced
  • Moving away from fossil fuels will have a cost
  • Obama also criticised former president Trump
  • He also hit out at Russia and China for not attending the summit.
Barack Obama said world leaders were falling short on decisive climate change action at an address during COP26. (Credit: PA)

What did Obama say about protesters?

Groups including Extinction Rebellion and Insulate Britain have been criticised for blocking traffic in protests they have used to draw attention to the effects of climate change and the environmental impact of inefficient heating.

“Protests are necessary to raise awareness, hashtag campaigns can spread awareness,” he said.

“But 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.

“To change the minds of those fellow citizens in our respective countries, we have to do a little more listening.”

He added: “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 through 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.”

What did he say about the impact on members of the public?

Work must be done, the former president told delegates, to understand the impact of rapid de-carbonisation on normal people.

“It is true – a lot of climate opposition comes from fossil fuel companies trying to make a buck, despite the green ads they run on TV,” he said.

“It is true that there are climate deniers out there who for ideological reasons you will never convince.

“But I’m not talking about them – I’m talking about the fact that we’ve got to persuade 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.

“We have to think about the mother in India who, yes, will suffer droughts and floods made worse by climate change, but whose more immediate concern is getting electricity so her children don’t have to sit in the dark and can’t do their homework.

“You can’t dismiss that concern – there are workers and communities that still depend on coal for power and jobs and yes, they are concerned about maintaining their wages – that’s not unreasonable for them to be concerned about that.”

Obama criticised Chinese and Russian leaders for not turning up to the climate conference despite being “two of the world’s largest emitters”. (Credit: PA)

What else did he speak about?

Moving away from fossil fuels, the former president said, will have a cost, but it was for the more developed nations to ensure “the people most effected by the transition to clean energy aren’t the ones baring most of the cost”.

“They don’t have any margin for error,” he said.

“I can afford to give up a lot of my current lifestyle to benefit the planet, because I’ll still have a lot leftover – a lot of folks don’t have that cushion.”

He added: “Any climate plan worth its salt has to take these inequities into account – whether its through subsidies to poor people to ease the transition to clean energy, whether its technology transfers that help poor countries meet their development goals by leapfrogging dirty fuels – we have to pay attention to those embedded inequities and the politics that surrounds that.”

The controversial issue of Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin choosing not to attend the summit was also on the former US president’s mind, who 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.”

The former president took the opportunity to criticise Donald Trump for removing the US from the Paris agreement during his time as US leader.

Trump controversially withdrew the US from the Paris Climate Agreement on November 4, 2020 after stating that “in order to fulfil my solemn duty to protect America and its citizens, the United States will withdraw.”

Obama said: “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 real happy about that.”

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