COP26: Obama criticises China and Russia for ‘lack of urgency’

Former US president says national plans of China and Russia on the climate crisis show a ‘dangerous lack of urgency’.

Obama also criticised members of the US Republican Party for their hostility towards climate science [Paul Ellis/AFP]

Former United States President Barack Obama has criticised Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin for not joining other global leaders at the COP26 climate crisis summit in Glasgow.

“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,” Obama said during an address at the summit on Monday.

He added that their plans indicated a “willingness to maintain the status quo on the part of those governments. That’s a shame.”

The Glasgow summit 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.

Delegates from some 200 countries are in Glasgow to come up with a deal to meet the Paris Agreement goals of limiting temperature rises to between 1.5 and two degrees Celsius (2.7F-3.6F).

Obama said while “advanced economies” like Europe and the US needed to lead on climate change, so did nations like Russia, China and India.

“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.”

The former US leader said that while he acknowledged international cooperation had “waned” due to several reasons including the pandemic and “nationalism”, climate change was one issue that should transcend “our day to day to politics and geopolitics”.

Obama also took a shot at members of the US Republican Party saying both he and current Democratic President Joe Biden had been “constrained in large part by the fact that one of our two major parties has decided not only to sit on the sidelines but express active hostility toward climate science and make climate change a partisan issue”.

“For those listening back home in the US, let me say this: 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 down.

“Nature, physics, science, do not care about party affiliation,” he said.

Moreover, Obama asserted that pressure from voters could help force governments to commit to more ambitious climate plans.

“The cold hard fact is we will not have more ambitious climate plans coming out of governments unless governments feel some pressure from voters,” he added.

‘Get busy’

Obama told young people “you are right to be frustrated,” but then relayed the advice his mother gave him when he was young.

“’Don’t sulk. Get busy, get to work and change what needs to be changed,’” he said. “Vote like your life depends on it – because it does.”

Meanwhile, online activist group Avaaz released a video showing Obama had made the same call for action, not words, to help poor nations as long ago as 2009, but with few results in the ensuing years.

Former US President Barack Obama, wearing a face-covering due to COVID-19, leaves after attending a meeting at the COP26 UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow on November 8, 2021 [Paul Ellis/AFP]

At a UN climate summit 12 years ago in Copenhagen, when Obama was president, rich nations promised to hand developing countries $100bn a year by 2020 to help them adapt to climate change.

The target was missed, and at COP26 richer nations have said they will meet the goal in 2023 at the latest, with some hoping it could be delivered a year earlier.

Scientists have said the urgency of global warming is as great as the dire speeches at Glasgow have conveyed, with the planet only a few years away from the point where meeting the goals set in the Paris accord will become impossible due to mounting damage from coal, petroleum, agriculture and other pollution sources.

The last few days have seen huge demonstrations in Glasgow and around Europe, demanding faster action in fighting global warming.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies