Obama slams Russia, China over ‘lack of urgency’ in climate matters

Ellen Knickmeyer, Aniruddha Ghosal and Seth Borenstein
The Associated Press

GLASGOW, Scotland — Barack Obama expressed confidence at U.N. climate talks Monday that the Biden administration will ultimately get its $555 billion climate package through Congress, and faulted U.S. rivals China and Russia for what he called a “dangerous lack of urgency” in cutting their own climate-wrecking emissions.

As nations complained of lagging trust and progress in the climate talks, Obama, one of the leaders who paved the way for the historic 2015 Paris climate deal, threw in a touch of his trademark hope but admitted that “images of dystopia” were creeping into his dreams.

“There are times where the future seems somewhat bleak. There are times where I am doubtful that humanity can get its act together before it’s too late,” Obama said. at the two-week-long negotiations. “(But) we can’t afford hopelessness.”

His comments came as conference leaders acknowledged Monday that many key sticking points exist after a week of talks.

The U.N. climate conference 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 of 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit).

That celebration has been replaced by worry. Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Paris accord. And while President Joe Biden put America back in the climate deal, the Trump move set back U.S. efforts. Other top polluters — including China, India and Russia — are moving far more slowly on fighting climate change than scientists say is needed.

Obama’s appearance sought to remind governments of the elation that surrounded the Paris accord and urge them to announce more immediate, concrete steps to put the 2015 deal into action.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re a Republican or a Democrat if your Florida house is flooded by rising seas, or your crops fail in the Dakotas, or your California house is burning. Nature, physics, science — they don’t care about party affiliation,” Obama said. “We need everybody — even if we disagree on other things.”

Despite opposition within Biden’s own Democratic party that has blocked the president’s climate-fighting legislation, Obama was confident that some version of Biden’s ambitious climate bill will pass and be “historic.”

“It will set the United States on course to meet its new climate targets,” he said.

And while the rapport between U.S. and Chinese negotiators paved the way to the Paris accord, Obama on Monday criticized Chinese President Xi Jin­ping and Russian President Vladimir Putin for not joining other leaders at the climate talks in Glasgow.

“It was particularly discouraging to see the leaders of two of the world’s largest emitters, China and Russia, decline to even attend the proceedings, and their national plans reflect what appears to be a dangerous lack of urgency,” Obama said.