Obama urges countries to ‘act now’ to tackle climate change, help island nations


Our planet is changing. So is our journalism. This story is part of a CBC News initiative entitled Our Changing Planet to show and explain the effects of climate change and what is being done about it.

Former U.S. president Barack Obama called on the UN climate conference in Glasgow on Monday to address the risks that island nations face from rising sea levels.

Obama said their tales at the 2015 climate talks had been crucial to the resulting Paris Agreement, which commits countries to holding the rise in the average global temperature to “well below” 2 C above pre-industrial levels.

“I have been shaped by my experience growing up in Hawaii,” Obama said, adding: “We have to act now to help with adaptation and resilience.”

Leaders of island nations at the COP26 summit pressed Obama about the failure of the United States and other Western countries to meet pledges to provide $100 billion US a year in climate finance.

“Among others, the USA is woefully short of paying its fair share of climate finance,” said Fiji’s Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama, adding that the most vulnerable are being told to “suck it up and wait.”

“Developed nations are failing us,” Bainimarama said.

Obama arrived at the climate talks on Monday at the start of the second week of negotiations, which will focus on the nitty-gritty details that need to be agreed to by over 190 countries to further implement the Paris agreement.

Obama’s aim at the summit is to highlight how far the world has come since the Paris agreement was reached six years ago but stress that more difficult work lies ahead.

  • Have questions about COP26 or climate science, policy or politics? Email us: ask@cbc.ca. Your input helps inform our coverage.

He said there is a big gap between the optimistic projection made last week by the International Energy Agency that newly made country and corporate pledges would limit global warming to 1.8 C and the United Nations’ forecast that current plans would lead to a “catastrophic” rise of 2.7 C this century.

“That makes a big difference for island nations,” he said. “Every degree to which we can mitigate counts.”

Obama will also meet with youth climate activists on Monday, who he said will need to keep pressure on governments to deliver on climate action.

The Conference of Parties (COP), as it’s known, meets every year and is the global decision-making body set up in the early 1990s to implement the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and subsequent climate agreements.

Britain, which is hosting the COP26 meeting, attempted to set the pace by announcing £290 million pounds (roughly $486.9 million Cdn) in new funding, including support for countries in the Asia Pacific to deal with the impact of global warming.

‘We must act now,’ U.K. envoy says

It says the money is in addition to the “billions in additional international funding” already committed by rich countries such as Denmark, Japan and the United States for adaptation and resilience in vulnerable nations, many of which have experienced the worst effects of climate change.

“We must act now to stop climate change from pushing more people into poverty. We know that climate impacts disproportionately affect those already most vulnerable,” said Anne-Marie Trevelyan, who was appointed by the British government to focus on adaptation and resilience.

While developing countries want more money to help them adapt to higher temperatures that have caused more frequent droughts, floods and wildfires, developed nations have been focused on channeling finance toward cutting emissions.

Tuvalu’s Minister for Justice, Communication & Foreign Affairs Simon Kofe gives a COP26 statement while standing in the ocean in Funafuti in Tuvalu. (Tuvalu’s Ministry of Justice, Communication and Foreign Affairs)

The cost of both is huge.

The expected economic cost of loss and damage by 2030 has been put at between $400 billion US and $580 billion US a year in developing countries, and up to $1.8 trillion by 2050, the Heinrich Boll Foundation said, citing academic studies.

Tuvalu’s foreign minister, Simon Kofe, offered a graphic demonstration of how rising sea levels affect his small island nation — delivering his recorded speech to the conference dressed in a suit and tie while standing knee-deep in seawater.

“The statement juxtaposes the COP26 setting with the real-life situations faced in Tuvalu due to the impacts of climate change and sea level rise,” said Kofe, standing at a lectern on the shores of the Pacific island.

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