Former President Barack Obama delivered a moving speech during day nine of COP26 that took his successor to task and urged collaboration between individuals and nations in order to continue fighting climate change for the long haul regardless of political affiliation or motivation. While many outlets chose to focus on Obama’s soundbite-worthy call for young folks to “stay angry” and let that frustration motivate them, his speech on Monday was less about righteous fury and more about the urgent action this crisis requires.
Obama acknowledged some of his and his party’s own shortcomings while also noting how the Biden administration is stymied by similar problems. “I am convinced that President Biden’s Build Back Better bill will be historic and a huge plus for U.S. action on climate change. But keep in mind, Joe Biden wanted to do even more. He’s constrained by the absence of a robust majority that’s needed to make that happen,” Obama said. “Both of us have 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.”
The House is expected to tack up the Build Back Better Act next week. Obama made it clear that “saving the planet isn’t a partisan issue,” however, and urged Republicans to take climate change seriously. That notion extends to countries that may not be making as much progress as the world hoped for when 175 signees first adopted the Paris Accord in 2015. That number is now closer to 200 but many countries—the U.S. included—failed to meet many of the goals highlighted in that framework.
“Paris showed the world that progress is possible, created a framework, important work was done there, and important work has been done here. That is the good news,” Obama said. “Now for the bad news: We are nowhere near where we need to be yet... The consequences of not moving fast enough are becoming more apparent all the time. Last month, a study found that 85% of the global population has experienced weather events that were more severe because of climate change.”
Obama admitted that the U.S. did itself and the planet no favors by leaving the Paris Accord during the Trump administration but praised the companies that “chose to stay the course” and prioritize reducing emissions. Still, more must be done, especially when it comes to investing in a net-zero future. This is where the Build Back Better Act plays a key role, as even at its most stripped-down, it allows for historic investments in climate action. Ahead of the House vote, call on lawmakers to pass BBB. The U.S.—and the world—simply cannot wait.