Barack Obama: We can't just 'preach to the choir' or 'block traffic' to tackle climate change

Barack Obama reminded world leaders of the obligations they made in the 2015 Paris climate agreement. Credit: AP

Barack Obama said people must win over sceptics on climate change, and it isn't enough to "preach to the choir" or block traffic to tackle environmental problems.

In a speech to the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow on Monday, he said we must persuade people that immediate climate action is important for us all.

The 44th president of the United States praised young people for their climate action efforts, but said we must listen more to climate sceptics if we want to address global warming.

“We can’t just yell at (climate sceptics), or say they’re ignorant", he said.

"We can’t just tweet at them, it’s not enough to inconvenience them by blocking traffic in a protest."

Mr Obama added that we must listen to people who think negatively about taking climate action, and understand that some people may have reservations about their countries moving "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 said.

Barack Obama praised the role young people have played in tackling climate change. Young people protested in Glasgow on Friday (pictured). Credit: PA

In a wide-ranging speech, the 60-year-old, who now runs the Obama Foundation with his wife Michelle, reserved special praise for young people, who he said are leading the way on climate action.

Mr Obama mentioned his two daughters - both in their twenties - and said he understood why young people so passionate about climate change.

“The reason is simple: they have more stake in this fight than anyone else. That is why I want to spend the rest of my time today talking to young people", he said.

“If those older people won’t listen, they need to get out the way", he added.

This morning in a speech to Pacific island nations, Mr Obama said rich countries must take more responsibility for climate change, and that everyone has "sacrifices to make" when it comes tackling environmental problems.

When it comes to climate change, “all of us have a part to play, all of us have work to do, all of us have sacrifices to make”, Mr Obama said.


Former US president Barack Obama arrived at COP26 to applause on Monday morning


He added that people who live in wealthy nations have an added burden when it comes to global warming, as wealth nations "helped to precipitate the problem” of climate change.

The 60-year-old, who is from the US island state of Hawaii, spoke to leaders and delegates from Pacific island nations that are threatened by sea level rises.

He described himself as an "island kid" and said our islands are now "threatened more than ever” by global warming.

Mr Obama said island states are the "canary in the coalmine" for climate change, and will suffer the most catastrophic effects of global warming before other countries.

Mr Obama, who was accompanied by US climate envoy John Kerry, ended his speech this morning with a Hawaiian proverb, urging people to unite to move forward.

“It’s a reminder that if you all want to paddle a canoe you better all be rowing in the same direction and at the same time, every oar has to move in unison", he said.

"That’s the only way that you move forward".

The former president, who served from 2009 to 2017, helped negotiate the 2015 Paris climate agreement between world leaders. This was a series of climate action commitments between nations.

The COP26 climate conference - what you need to know

What is COP26? When and where will it be?

Each year, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) meets at what is called the Conference of the Parties (abbreviated as COP) to discuss the world's progress on climate change and how to tackle it.

COP26 is the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties summit which will be held in Glasgow from 31 October to 12 November.

Who is going?

Leaders of the 197 countries that signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – a treaty that came into force in 1994 - are invited to the summit.

These are some of the world leaders that will be attending COP26:

  • US President Joe Biden, climate envoy John Kerry, climate adviser and former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy, and 10 other US cabinet officials.

  • Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison. In the days leading up to COP26, Mr Morrison committed Australia to a target of net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Prince Charles, Prince William, the Duchess of Cornwall and the Duchess of Cambridge are also attending. The Queen has withdrawn from visiting after being advised by her doctors to rest - she will address the conference virtually instead.

China's President Xi Jinping, Russia's President Vladimir Putin, and President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil are among the leaders that have decided not to travel to Glasgow.

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What is it hoping to achieve?

1. Achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and limiting global warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels - Countries are being encouraged to set ambitious 2030 emissions targets. They are also encouraged to accelerate the phase-out of coal, clamp down on deforestation, speed up the switch to electric vehicles and encourage investment in renewables.

2. Protect natural habitats and communities from climate change disasters

3. Finances for a greener future - In 2009, developed countries were asked to keep to their promises to contribute at least $100 billion (£72.5 billion) per year by 2020 to protect the planet. In 2015, it was agreed that the goal would be extended to 2025.

However, new analysis shows the goal is unlikely to have been met last year and is on track to fall short in 2021 and 2022.

4. Getting all countries and organisations to work together to tackle the climate crisis

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