The UN climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, is the former American president’s first since he helped deliver the triumph of the 2015 Paris climate accord, when nations committed to cutting fossil fuel and agricultural emissions fast enough to keep the Earth’s warming below catastrophic levels.
Climate summits since then have been less conclusive, especially as the US under President Donald Trump dropped out of the Paris accord. President Joe Biden has since rejoined.
Obama’s appearance on the sidelines of the talks is meant to remind governments of the elation that surrounded the striking of the Paris accord, and urge them to more immediate, concrete steps to put the 2015 deal into action.
“I am optimistic,” Obama said in a video message ahead of his arrival at the Glasgow talks. “The thing I want to continue to insist is that we have no time to lose.”
Obama on Monday was taking part in a session on Pacific islands, some of them at risk of disappearing as the oceans rise; speaking to a bloc of nations seeking higher commitments; and joining a round table of younger leaders of climate-minded foundations, businesses, research and advocacy.
The two-week climate talks are at their midpoint, after President Joe Biden and scores of other global leaders launched the summit last week with pledges of action and calls for more.
Scientists say the urgency is fully as great as the speech-making at Glasgow conveys, with the planet a few years away from the point where meeting the goals set in the Paris accord becomes impossible, due to mounting damage from coal, petroleum, agriculture and other pollution sources.