Nearly 200 nations pledged to cut greenhouse emissions and help poor countries cope with the worst effects of an already warming planet under the accord signed in 2016 that was a cornerstone of Obama’s environmental legacy.
But his successor, Donald Trump, abandoned that legacy when his administration notified the UN last month that the US would pull out of the accord. Trump has said the agreement could impede growth and impinge on US sovereignty.
Speaking to young Asian leaders at a Kuala Lumpur conference hosted by his foundation, Obama said he knew the standards set by each country were insufficient but that the accord was practical and meant for the long haul.
“I took satisfaction knowing that just by setting up the mechanism, we had created the ability to over time, turn up the standards, turn up the demands. Send a signal to businesses so that they started investing in more clean energy because they saw change coming,” he said in response to questions on the climate change crisis.
Obama didn’t mention US withdrawal from the accord. He said there is no “silver bullet” to solve climate change but he remains optimistic that global warming can be slowed down.
“It’s too late for us not to have some impacts. And so there’s gonna have to be some adaptation that’s going to take place. The oceans will be rising and that is going to displace people. And so we’re going to anticipate and care for some of the consequences of that, including large-scale migration and disruptions that are going to be very costly. But there is a big difference between the ocean rising three feet and rising six feet,” he said.
He urged young people not to despair but to use their voices to raise awareness on the issue.
We take two steps forward. We take one step back … but the trajectory has been positive. And the best we can then do is just do our work and try to advance it as best we can. Understanding that we will not finish the job,” he said.
“Most of the time, the way the world’s gotten to where we are now is small incremental victories, not big sweeping victories all at once.” About 200 people from the region were chosen by Obama’s foundation for the event in Kuala Lumpur that included workshops, leadership development and community projects.
Obama was joined by his wife Michelle, who on Thursday gave a talk to the young crowd with actress Julia Roberts.
Obama also spoke on other issues including family and work. He said on his deathbed he would remember moments spent with his wife and two daughters, not any bills he had passed or speeches he had made, Seeing them laugh … that’s going to be the thing that sticks. That’s going to be the thing that will give my life meaning,” he said.