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Obama giving a speech at COP26 Summit

Protests are not enough, Obama tells young people fighting for the climate

Barack Obama, former president of the United States, has said that young people need to get engaged politically, insist companies they patronize take the environment seriously and educate older folks on the effects of climate change to make much-needed impact.

In an address on Monday in Glasgow at the United Nations Climate Change conference, Obama commended the efforts of young activists like Greta Thunberg and others but say protests are not enough.

“It will not be enough to simply mobilize the converted, to preach to the choir, protests are necessary to raise awareness but to build a broad-based coalition for bold action, we have to persuade people who don’t agree with us or are indifferent to the issue,” Obama said.

“It’s not enough to tweet at them, block traffic, you have to understand their realities and work with them so that serious action on climate change doesn’t impact them,” he said.

On Friday and Saturday in Glasgow, thousands of young people marched across the city center protesting inaction from world leaders on actions that will mitigate climate change.

They are demanding that global leaders take action to ensure that the planet does not warm more than 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) compared with pre-industrial levels. It's a goal that was laid out in the Paris Agreement, but in the years since, the world has not been on track to meet that standard.

The demonstrations extended beyond Glasgow as the world marked a global day of action for climate justice on Friday.

Obama told the young people to stay angry but to channel that rage into choosing leaders who will represent their interest in government.

“You cannot be too pure for politics,” he told them.

The former president also told young people to be conscious of businesses that don’t care about the environment. CEOs are beginning to realize that getting serious about climate change would win them talent and customers, he told young people, to essentially vote with their wallets.

Obama also urged young people to educate their parents, teachers, and older folks who don’t have the same frame of reference as them when it comes to climate change and is not climate change deniers.

“They may listen to you more than an expert or even a former president,” he said.

He said some of these ones may have genuine concerns about climate mitigation activities negatively impacting their livelihoods and it's not unreasonable for them to be concerned about that.

Obama, a father of two daughters, expressed regret that his generation could not do more for the climate. He said obstacles from politicians in the second biggest party in the United States, the Republican party, and his party’s lack of majorities in the congress limited what he could do.

He took a swipe at former President Donald Trump for unilaterally taking the United States out of the Paris Agreement and said it was a ‘shame’ that countries like China and Russia, who are some of the biggest emitters, did not bother to come to Glasgow.

Obama called on global leaders to fulfill their commitments urging nations like India and Brazil to do more to help combat climate change.

He praised President Biden’s ‘Build Back Better’ program and the recently passed infrastructural budget in the United States which would allocate $50billion to activities that will help the climate, of which $3 blllion is committed to adaptation.

This story was originally published in Business Day on November 8, 2021. It was produced as part of the 2021 Climate Change Media Partnership, a journalism fellowship organized by Internews' Earth Journalism Network and the Stanley Center for Peace and Security.