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Former US President Barack Obama at the COP26 Climate Change Conference today. Colin Fisher/Alamy Live News

Obama says world 'falling short' on climate change as Ryan says Ireland 'willing to step up'

Here’s what happened at the UN climate summit in Glasgow today.

THE WORLD HAS not done nearly enough to tackle the climate crisis, and curbing rising temperatures will be hard – but humanity has done hard things before, Barack Obama said at the Cop26 climate summit.

In an often personal speech in Glasgow, the former US president said there were times he felt doubtful humanity could get its act together before it was too late and “images of dystopia” crept into his mind.

But he warned that “cynicism is the recourse of cowards” and the world had to muster the will, passion and activism of citizens to push governments, companies and society to meet the challenge.

He took a swipe at China and Russia’s leaders for failing to attend the conference and said their national plans for climate action “reflect a dangerous lack of urgency and willingness to maintain the status quo”.

While advanced economies like the US and Europe needed to lead on climate, so did major emitters including China, India, Russia, Indonesia, South Africa and Brazil, he said.

“We can’t afford to have anyone on the sidelines,” he warned.

And in directing a large portion of his speech at young people, he said they were right to be angry and frustrated – and urged them to channel it, keep pushing and to gird themselves for a marathon not a sprint in solving the issue.

He told them to “vote like your life depends on it, because it does”, to put pressure on companies to take action and to educate their parents, relatives and teachers.

He added: “I recognise that many young people may be cynical about politics, but the cold, hard fact is we will not have more ambitious climate plans coming out of governments unless governments feel some pressure from voters.”

Obama also said that while protests were necessary, there was also a need to listen to ordinary people who might be reluctant over climate action and help persuade them, instead of yelling at them or saying they were ignorant.

“It’s not enough to inconvenience them by blocking traffic in a protest – we actually have to listen to their objections and understand the reluctance of some ordinary people to see their countries move too fast on climate change,” he warned.

He also told delegates in a socially-distanced but full conference hall that America was back and the US is now “moving more boldly” after four years of “active hostility” from the administration of Donald Trump.

Countries had made progress since the Paris climate accord was secured in the French capital in 2015, and more progress had been made in the past week in Glasgow, he said.

But he warned: “Collectively and individually we are still falling short. We have not done nearly enough to address this crisis.”

He told delegates that keeping the rise in global temperature to 1.5C, necessary to prevent the worst impacts of climate change, “will not be easy, it’s going to be hard”.

He said existing political institutions moved slowly, international cooperation was difficult and made harder by misinformation on social media, and getting people to work together on a global scale took time which the world did not have.

But he said: “The thing we have going for us is that humanity has done hard things before. I believe we can do hard things again.”

He said victories would be incomplete, and there would be setbacks, and imperfect compromises, but they would “move the ball down the field”.

Ireland ‘willing to step up to the plate’

Speaking to reporters in Glasgow, environment minister Eamon Ryan quoted United States climate envoy John Kerry in saying that “this is the week that decides the decade.”

“My sense is that last week went reasonably well, in terms of some of the methane pledge and the deforestation pledge,” Ryan said.

“I think this Cop is about creating momentum for action and creating transparency and urgency for action.”

The Green Party leader added that Ireland will commit €10 million in the next year to the International Adaption Fund.

“Irish people do want to do something on this. I think the Irish people are sick and tired of being described as climate laggards,” Ryan said.

“I think that vote in the Dáil (on the climate action plan) is fairly reflective of a country that’s is willing to step up to the plate. We’re good at this. 

“When we set our minds on doing something collectively we’re as well placed as anyone to do it,” Ryan added. 

Hard hit nations

While the COP26 talks are struggling to rustle up promised funding to help vulnerable states prepare for the future impacts of the climate crisis, states already reeling from climate disaster are demanding separate, immediate money for “loss and damage”.

“We cannot adapt to what is already happening,” Daniel Ribeiro, technical coordinator at Justica Ambiental/Friends of the Earth Mozambique, told AFP.

Yet funding for loss and damage is not even on the official negotiation agenda in Glasgow.

Harjeet Singh, senior advisor at Climate Action Network International, said that loss and damage “cannot be a side issue”.

“We are seeing impacts hit vulnerable communities in poor countries even as these climate talks continue,” he told AFP.

“Small island states are calling for finance to help people recover from devastating storms and rising seas. It is time rich countries stopped the token references and hollow words and backed it up with real action and finance here in Glasgow.”

With reporting from Orla Dwyer, Céimin Burke and AFP

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