Former President Barack Obama blasted leaders playing politics with climate change during a speech on Monday as he condemned his successor Donald Trump for pulling out of the Paris agreement.
Obama, speaking at the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, called out Russia and China for their lack of action at the same time as he criticized Republican politicians at home.
He issued a call to arms while expressing his anger at the way partisan politics had got in the way of tackling climate change.
He said he and President Joe Biden had been ‘constrained in large part by the fact that one of our two major parties has decided not only to sit on the sidelines but express active hostility toward climate science and make climate change a partisan issue.
‘For those listening back home in the U.S., let me say this: 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 down.’
Obama’s foray into politics and appearance at a global summit was unusual for a former president.
His speech followed Biden’s appearance last week, when he explicitly apologized for Trump’s exit from the Paris accords.
Obama avoided naming his successor but made his feelings clear.
‘Some of our progress stalled when my successor decided to unilaterally pull out of the Paris Agreement in his first year in office,’ he said.
‘I wasn’t real happy about that.’
Tens of thousands of activists, leaders and politicians have gathered in Glasgow for two weeks of climate talks.
Organizers hope they can secure agreements that will help meet a target of limiting global temperature rises to less than 1.5C.
As he exhorted young people to lead the fight, Obama pointed the finger at nations he said had not done enough.
‘I have to confess it was particularly discouraging to see the leaders of two of the world’s largest emitters China and Russia declined to even attend the proceedings,’ he said. in his 44-minute speech
‘Their national plans so far reflect what appears to be a dangerous lack of urgency or willingness to maintain the status quo on the part of those governments and that’s a shame.’
But he also had words for protesters, saying they should try listening a little more to those reluctant to take action.
He said it was not enough to inconvenience the public by blocking traffic – a reference to the divisive tactics of groups including Extinction Rebellion and Insulate Britain.
‘Protests are necessary to raise awareness, hashtag campaigns can spread awareness,’ he said.
‘But to build the broad-based coalitions necessary for bold action, we have to persuade people who either currently don’t agree with us, or are indifferent to the issue.’
Obama took the stage to a rock star welcome of whoops and cheers.
Obama also critiicized Russia and China and their ‘dangerous lack of urgency or willingness to maintain the status quo on the part of those governments and that’s a shame’
Earlier, it emerged that police swooped on two men just 500 yards from where he was giving a speech at COP26.
Several vehicles blocked off the two suspects before more than half a dozen officers threw the men to the ground face down before handcuffing them where they lay.
A witness to the drama this morning on St Vincent Street at around 11.15am told MailOnline: ‘There was the sound of cars screeching and lots of shouting of ‘armed police’
‘Two men were dragged from a blue car and forced to the ground and surrounded by police. Some were disguised to hide their faces. One of the arrested men was bald and wearing a checked shirt.’
The dramatic arrests happened on the corner of St Vincent St and Breadalbane St, 300 yards from Cop26, at 11.17am with the former president due to arrive at the summit at 11.30am.
Obama was joined by John Kerry, the US climate envoy, as he made his way to give a speech at 11.30am. Eyewitnesses told how police ordered them to get back from the scene as they carried out the operation.
Eileen Gordon, 29, a shop worker, said: ‘It happened that quick. It was rapid. There was no messing about. Cars came from everywhere.
‘Several cars surrounded the Volkswagen and it looked like one of the guys tried to make a run for it but they got a grip on him and pinned him to the ground.
‘The driver was pulled out of the car and he had assault rifles aimed at him.’
A construction worker told how his colleagues were also ordered to keep clear.
He said: ‘The noise was deafening. They were shouting and that probably disoriented the two men they arrested. The amount of undercover police and weapons suggests this couldn’t wait. We don’t know what is coming but fair play to the police. They did well.
‘They searched the vehicle, opened to boot and there was a large orange bag they were interested in. The car was left across the road before a truck came to impound it.
‘The police did their job. They’re here to make sure Cop26 goes ahead without incident.’
Another onlooker said: ‘This has been a busy road, especially this past week. The police presence is high.
‘It was too much excitement for a wet Monday morning but thank goodness the police were super efficient and nobody was hurt.
‘There are workmen in the area and they were trying to get a look but the police told them to get back. They were all shouting which must be a tactic to confuse them.
‘They took a lot of interest in what was in the car and seemed to carry out a thorough search. You don’t get the armed police out unless it is something serious.
‘They opened the boot and seemed quite shocked by what they found.’
Scaffolder James Grant, 24, said: ‘One of the scaffolders saw the black unmarked cars come in at speed. They must have followed them to the junction and then there was another change of gear as they sprung into action.
‘Fortunately they didn’t need to use their weapons but seeing half a dozen people with assault rifles shouting at you was quite frightening.
‘The police have been on high alert for weeks. This looked very serious because they were armed and the men they arrested didn’t seem frightened, more determined than anything.
‘I’d hate for a terror attack to happen in this city. Glaswegians just want Cop26 to be a success without incident.’
The former US president called for real change to tackle the climate crisis.
He told delegates how he had a ‘hard time’ staying away from Cop26 in Glasgow.
‘Even though I’m not required to attend summits like this this any more, old habits die hard,’ he said.
‘And when the issue at hand is the health of our planet, and the world our children and our grandchildren will inherit, then you will have a hard time keeping me away. That’s why I’m here today.’
He continued: ‘When it comes to climate, time really is running out.
‘You heard the same message from world leaders last week. Now that they’ve left, here’s what we can report: meaningful progress has been made since Paris.
‘The agreements made here in Glasgow, thanks to so many of you – including my friend John Kerry, who is tireless with his team – thanks to your efforts here in Glasgow we see the prospect of further progress.
‘What is also true is that collectively and individually, we are still falling short.
‘We have not done nearly enough to address this crisis, we are going to have to do more, and whether that happens or not to a large degree is going to depend on you – not just you in this room, but anybody who’s watching or reading a transcript of what I’m saying here today.’
Earlier today, he spoke at an event with leaders of island states threatened by rising oceans.
The former president – who was born in Hawaii – told the event he is ‘an island kid’, describing islands as the ‘canary in the coal mine’ for action on the climate.
He told attendees ‘our islands are threatened more than ever’ and praised Joe Biden for highlighting their plight.
He said rich nations ‘have an added burden to make sure we are working with and helping and assisting those who are less responsible and less able but more vulnerable to this oncoming crisis’.
Concluding his remarks, he invoked a Hawaiian proverb: ‘Unite to move forward’.
Explaining its meaning, he said: ‘It’s a reminder that if you all want to paddle a canoe you better all be rowing in the same direction and at the same time, every oar has to move in unison, that’s the only way that you move forward.’
Boris Johnson and Joe Biden have both given addresses on climate change at COP26.
They attended a dinner at the nearby Glasgow Art Galleries, which is walking distance from where the arrests took place.
Increased security around the event is now likely, despite protests in the city having been peaceful in recent days.
Police had praised the behaviour of 100,000 protestors who marched to Glasgow Green on Saturday.
Obama touched down at Glasgow Airport in a Bombardier 6000 private jet from Washington on Sunday night.
Wearing a black face mask, he was whisked away in a convoy of eight armoured vehicles with armed guards
The 60-year old had earlier tweeted about his visit, confirming he would be joining in the global effort to tackle the climate change emergency.
Revealing he would be doing all he could to contribute, he tweeted: ‘Five years ago, the Paris Agreement went into effect.
‘Paris provided an important framework in the fight against climate change, but it wasn’t enough.
‘That’s why I’ll be speaking in Glasgow on Monday about the road ahead and what young people in particular can do to help.’