GLASGOW — Former President Barack Obama, who helped to seal the Paris climate agreement six years ago, appeared at the climate summit here to assure a global audience that despite American political divisions, officials remain committed to the cause.
“Politics in the United States are not always easy,” he said. “My successor maybe wasn’t as interested in climate science as I was, it turns out.”
Donald J. Trump was his successor. pulled the United States out of the Paris accord unwound more than 100 of Mr. Obama’s environmental regulations. The Obama administration’s original targets to reduce its emissions of planet-warming greenhouse gases remain unmet, and it’s unclear exactly how the new targets set by President Biden will be fulfilled, given the obstacles he has faced in Congress.
“It’s one of the things about democracy,” said Mr. Obama, who took no questions from reporters. “You don’t always get your way.”
Mr. Obama’s appearance at the summit was greeted with enormous enthusiasm, with a large crowd of delegates crowding around to catch a glimpse of the former president and loudly cheering as he walked into the hall.
Obama said that the United States was the nation that has historically emitted the highest levels of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere and was therefore a target for critics at this summit. He suggested that the criticism directed at members of American delegations was not justified.
“Sometimes it will feel like the U.S. and some of the other countries are not always moving as fast or following through with commitments as much as we like,” he said. “It’s not for lack of trying by the people who are working here.”
Mr. Obama’s agenda was carefully curated. He spoke first to leaders of several island countries already feeling the acute impacts of climate change, emphasizing the need for money to help vulnerable countries adapt to a hotter planet and describing himself as “an island kid.”
He was to attend a closed-door meeting with the High Ambition Coalition, a group of countries. His two-week summit, which is 26th session of Conference of Parties of the United Nations climate convention, or COP26, concludes with a round table discussion with a group of young people advocating climate action.
However, he was not the first to speak. Some young activists criticized the United States for failing to pay its fair share of financial assistance to poor countries in order help them address climate change.
Vanessa Nakate, a social activist, posted on Twitter that she was 13 years old when the former president promised that countries of the global North would secure $100 billion in climate financing per year by 2020. That money hasn’t yet materialized. “The US has broken that promise, it will cost lives in Africa,” she tweeted. “You want to meet #COP26 youth. We want action.”
It is a current that runs through all the proceedings: young activists angryThe older presidents and prime minsters of polluter nations are being held responsible for failing to swiftly reduce emissions and assist those most affected by climate disasters.
Mr. Obama said Monday that rich industrialized countries like the United States had “an added burden” to aid nations at the front lines of climate impacts. The United States has been under pressure from other countries to increase funding for adaptation to climate risks. The Biden administration has committed $11.4 billion to climate aid over the next few decades, with approximately a fourth for adaptation. However, congressional approval is still required.
“Those of us who live in big wealthy nations, those of us who helped to precipitate the problem, we have an added burden to make sure that we are working with and helping and assisting those who are less responsible and less able and more vulnerable to this oncoming crisis,” Mr. Obama said.
Many of the most vulnerable countries have been pressing for reparations from rich industrialized nations as part of what they call an “employer loss and damage fund”. This has been going on for decades. The United States and other wealthy countries have been reluctant to accept any responsibility.
The Marshall Islands said it would need “tens of billions” of dollars for adaptation, including to elevate its territory and move its people away from harm’s way.
Mr. Obama offered a nod to the fury of the young, at one point crediting them for their ability to “speak truth to power.”
“Us old folks, the gray-haired types or no-haired types sometimes I think make excuses,” he said.
He made sure to mention that the pledges made thus far could significantly slow down the temperature rise if they were kept.
“That’s real progress, not enough, but it moves us in right direction,” he said. “That requires ongoing activism in between.”