Former U.S. president Barack Obama warned of a series of environmental disasters linked to climate change forcing societies to take radical measures for survival within 20 years unless the world follows a “smarter direction” on managing energy.
In remarks that earned a round of applause from about 3,500 people attending a forum at the Vancouver Convention Centre West, the two-term Democratic president who left office in 2017 said on Tuesday that there’s a need for urgent action to deal with a warming planet.
“We have probably a 20-year window to at least get things going in a smarter direction,” Mr. Obama told the event organized by the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade.
Mr. Obama, who acknowledged the role of energy in boosting the North American economy, called for wealthy oil-producing countries, such as Canada and the United States, to more seriously look at transitioning into an energy mix that can reduce greenhouse-gas effects, and more effectively using solar and wind energy as well as energy efficiency in the electrical grid.
However, he added it is important not to pretend that any transition to energy efficiency can occur overnight.
“It is important for our politics to take into account all the jobs and the economy that is generated from energy,” he said, dismissing the idea of a shutdown of the business for the sake of the environment. “That’s not going to happen.”
Without elaborating, Mr. Obama said that in Canada, there has been “lip service” to upholding the Paris accord, a UN agreement on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but jobs and exports always take priority. “We put it off.”
It was Mr. Obama’s second forum of the day, after remarks to a packed arena in Calgary where he also talked about the environmental impact of the energy sector and called for change, drawing applause.
“I am an old-fashioned guy. I believe in the facts, and the facts are that the planet is getting warmer,” Mr. Obama said, responding to a question on climate change from Iain Black, the president and CEO of the board of trade.
The former president said changes in the environment are evident, such as increasing wildfires, floods, hurricanes and tsunamis of greater force, insect-borne diseases and rising sea levels.
"If you think you have problems with migration or conflict or refugees or pandemic now, imagine if the entire global community is placed under the strain of these crazy weather patterns.
“This is coming. I have two daughters. Within their lifetime, they will see these events,” he told the audience, noting he does not yet have grandchildren, but that those listening with grandchildren could face challenges ahead.
“It will make life very difficult for them even if they are wealthy and can somehow insulate themselves. At some point, things can start breaking down," he said.
“Unfortunately, there is a tendency, more pronounced in the United States, but in Canada as well to just pretend like this isn’t going to happen.”
Earlier in his remarks, Mr. Obama spoke to the issue of Canada-U.S. relations, suggesting there is a general harmony between the two countries.
He recalled, while president, that during a meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the Canadian leader was exercised about timber agreements.
“I don’t want to make light of the importance of the timber industry in Canada,” he said. “He wanted to spend an hour talking about timber. I was, like, 'Dude. I’ve got Syria, the Paris accords [Iran and nuclear issues]. Is that how we want to spend our time? On a timber agreement?"