Ross Hamilton, a 19-year-old Glasgow college student, doesn’t hold international leaders in high regard — “they chat a lot of” crap — or expect them to do anything on an issue he cares profoundly about, climate change.
But there is one past global leader in whom Hamilton has faith, at least enough to gather hundreds of Glasgow college students outside their campus on a dark Monday in the hopes of catching a sight of him: Barack Obama is the president of the United States. “I’ve always been a fan of his. I get the impression he’s a straight shooter.”
The former US president, who was one of the architects of the 2015 Paris climate agreement, made a cross-generational plea at the United Nations global climate meetings in Glasgow, urging disgruntled climate campaigners to continue in the fight. Obama, at 60 and five years out of office, still claims a connection with liberal and moderate young people that President Joe Biden, 78, may not be able to achieve.
Obama was seated around a table with a dozen climate champions from across the world, listening to them and encouraging them, inside the glass-fronted facility where Hamilton and other Strathclyde University students were waiting for him to emerge.
Obama wore sleeveless shirts and no tie, his hair whiter than it has been during his administration.
“The movement’s accomplishments should not be lessened even if some of the consequences” have fallen short, Obama told a crowd of young climate activists in their twenties and thirties. A congressman, a filmmaker, a legal advocate, private and public businesses, foundation officials, and heads of activist groups were among those in attendance.
“The issue is, where are the countries who have truly delivered on our expectations?” And it turns out that those were the regions where there was pressure, political mobilization, and activism,” Obama said.
It’ll all be up to “you people to put it into practice,” he continued.
President Barack Obama implemented policies to shift the United States away from coal and toward renewable energy, while President Donald Trump has ripped back most of them.
Not everyone in their twenties and thirties supports Obama.
Vanessa Nakate, a Ugandan climate activist, tweeted Monday that she was 13 years old when the United States, under Obama’s leadership, was one of a group of rich countries that promised $100 billion a year to poor countries to help them fight and cope with global warming, but that the promise was broken.
“I’m not targeting the former president,” Nakate told The Associated Press on Monday, “but that is me telling the truth.”
“This money was promised, but it has yet to arrive,” Nakate explained.
Young activists, particularly in Europe, are credited with pressing governments to address climate change. Greta Thunberg, a Swedish adolescent, started a climate movement in 2018 that has gathered hundreds of thousands of people to weekly rallies demanding that governments stop their reliance on coal, natural gas, and oil.
Following the Paris agreement, Glasgow was promoted as the meeting where the pact would be put into action by around 200 states.
After the first of two weeks of negotiations, Thunberg, now 18, declared the meetings a “failure.” Thunberg said national delegates in Glasgow were digging out loopholes for every commitment and “greenwashing” their own nations’ emissions, speaking to tens of thousands of youth climate protesters on Friday in the summit’s host city.
According to Luisa Neubauer, a leader of Thunberg’s campaign in Germany, young people were finding it difficult to comprehend that a climate movement that had recruited so many people could collapse.
“As people, especially activists, lose trust in their governmental vows, in what frequently turns out to be hollow promises, in the lack of honesty about past failures,” Neubauer told Obama, disenchantment was weakening people’s faith in democracy.
Obama advised climate campaigners to stay the course.
“Don’t believe you can avoid politics,” Obama urged earlier in an address at the discussions location, to which he received brief standing ovations.
“You don’t have to like it, but you can’t ignore it either.” “You can’t be too clean for it,” Obama said, devoting most of his address to the young people with whom he claimed he traveled to Glasgow to be.
“It’s all part of the process that will deliver us all,” he explained.