COP26 analysis: Obama calls on young people to 'stay angry' in climate fight

8 November 2021, 19:36 | Updated: 8 November 2021, 19:42

Barack Obama at the COP26 climate summit.
Barack Obama at the COP26 climate summit. Picture: Alamy
Gina Davidson

By Gina Davidson

Week two at COP26 and just when you thought things were flagging along comes the political popstar that is the former US President Barack Obama.

"Hello Glasgow!” he said as he took to the podium - though like any musician who’s been on tour too long and every hotel room is the same as the next, he went on to mix up Scotland with the Emerald Isle of Ireland, and quoted Shakespeare rather than Rabbie Burns.

Without a doubt though he sprinkled what can only be described as stardust over the proceedings on a particularly wet and grey Glasgow day. 

While he might describe himself as a private citizen these days, the crowds were bigger, the camera flashes brighter than they were for last week's flying visit by Leonardo DiCaprio.

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However, Obama was here with a serious message - that while much had been achieved since he signed the Paris agreement six years ago, the world was not where it needed to be to keep global warming to just 1.5C.

He criticised his successor in the White House, one Donald Trump, for “active hostility” towards climate science (Mr Trump removed the US from the Paris agreement - something which Joe Biden reversed) and went on to rail at Congress for putting obstacles in his, and now President Biden’s way in tackling climate change.

Floods, droughts and fires don’t care if you’re Republican or Democrat, he declared. But now, the US is back in the game and as the second biggest emitter of CO2 in the world, the leadership of America was vital, he said.

He had praise for the UK, the EU, Canada and Korea among others as well as for the movement by private sectors and global banking towards investing in cleaner, greener tech and energy.

A statement which will be much decried by climate organisations concerned by the influence of the fossil fuel sector in particular at COP26.

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Analysis has shown that there are more than 500 people attending that have links to oil, gas and coal - far outnumbering country delegates. 

But his speech was also directed very much at young people - whom he said had most to lose from government inaction.

Their voices were heard over the weekend in mass protests in Glasgow - and the former President said he understood their anger. They should use it, he said, to keep the pressure up.

The pressure is certainly on the negotiators to deliver.

The doomsday clock the Prime Minister referenced last week is ticking louder and Mr Johnson said countries must be ready to "make the bold compromises and ambitious commitments needed" in the final week of the climate summit.

It’s already been revealed that despite all the big pledges last week that to reach that 1.5C target a further tranche of commitments are needed to wipe out the outstanding 13 gigatonnes of CO2 emissions. 

And yet today the Australian government said it expects to continue selling coal “decades into the future”.

The country is the world’s second largest exporter of thermal coal, used in coal-fired power stations, and has no intention of giving up that boost to its economy as long as the demand exists.

Unsurprisingly COP President, Alok Sharma, has said finding consensus among almost 200 countries is not straightforward, though he has said there is a “constructive spirit” among negotiators trying to hammer out a “cover decision” which will show how countries will close that emissions gap.

Greenpeace has claimed Saudi negotiators attempted to block negotiations of the "cover decision" on Friday night and that the first draft of the decision has no mention of fossil fuels.

That pressure will be added to this week when COP will also hear from those nations at the sharp end of the climate crisis - the Minister of Environment from Papua New Guinea will address the conference tomorrow speaking on behalf of the coalition of rainforest nations.

Their demand for $100bn dollars of financial help to adapt to and cope with climate change is edging closer to being successful.

Today, we also heard from the UK government that £290m will go to help poorer countries, particularly Asian and Pacific nations.

This is day nine - there are five to go. It might be cold and wet in Glasgow but without doubt the heat is on.