Cop26: World must ‘step up now’ on climate action, Obama says

Bolivian negotiator says ‘net zero narrative is a big lie’ and GHGs need to be eliminated now

Former US president Barack Obama, speaking at Cop26 in Glasgow, has lambasted those who would play politics to avoid acting on climate change, calling out Russia and China in the same breath as Republican politicians in America. Video: Reuters


The world “has to step up, and it has to step up now” in response to climate change, former US president Barrack Obama has said in an address to the UN Cop26 summit in Glasgow.

As the gathering faces into its final days of hard negotiation on a deal to limit the extent of global heating, Mr Obama said the climate crisis was the one thing that must transcend day-to-day politics and geopolitics.

“What is also true, collectively and individually we are still falling short. We have not done nearly enough to address this crisis, we will need to do more,” Mr Obama said in a speech to a plenary gathering.

He declared “the US is back” at the forefront of global climate action after “stalling” during the Trump years, and went on to criticise Chinese president Xi Jinping and Russian president Vladimir Putin for not joining other leaders at the summit. He said he believed this suggested “a dangerous lack of urgency”.

At a closed meeting of members of the “high ambition coalition” (HAC) – which includes Ireland – Mr Obama is understood to have firmly supported developing countries pushing for a climate deal limiting global heating to 1.5 degrees.

In his speech earlier, Mr Obama acknowledged progress already made by negotiators in Glasgow but warned that gaps needed to be bridged in coming days.

‘More at stake’

The biggest force for facing up to the scale of action needed was among young people, he said. “The reason is simple – they have more at stake in this fight than anyone else... If those older people won’t listen, they need to get out the way.”

Addressing HAC ministers including Minister for Climate Eamon Ryan, Mr Obama said: “What you are doing – what the HAC is attempting to accomplish – is vital.”

Noting the coalition’s role in 2015 in ensuring the 1.5 degree target was written into the Paris agreement, he added: “The brutal tempests of the warming climate are making even clearer that we cross that line at our peril. Once again… it falls on the HAC to make that case.”

“You’ve come together once again to speak to not only the need to get to 1.5 degrees, but also to provide the adaptation funding that’s necessary for those who may end up paying the steepest price for actions that they themselves did not take.”

A draft statement from the HAC circulated on Monday notes “deep concern” over the gap between existing commitments on emissions made at Cop26 and far deeper cuts needed to limit global heating to within 1.5 degrees, “in this decisive decade”. Not all countries in the coalition have signed the statement, but 40 current signatories include groups of developing countries: the Alliance of Small Island States, the Least Developed Countries and the African Group.

‘Diplomatic bullying’

Bolivia’s chief negotiator Diego Pacheco Balanza has criticised a refusal by richer countries to discuss loss and damage or compensation at Cop26 as evidence of “diplomatic bullying”.

“There’s been a systematic attempt by developed countries to remove all discussion about responsibility, compensation and direct climate finance from the negotiations, it’s shameful,” he said.

“Instead, they want us to focus on carbon markets and their 2050 net zero narrative, which is completely meaningless. The net zero narrative is a big lie. We need to eliminate greenhouse gases now, not in 30 years.”

The first draft of the “Glasgow decision text” published on Monday, which contains no mention of phasing out fossil fuels, was described as exceptionally weak by Jennifer Morgan, director of Greenpeace International.

“Usually the text starts with some ambition, which then gets watered down,” she said. “To keep 1.5 alive, four words must be added: ‘fossil fuels phase out’, and countries must come back next year to close the gap.”