Obama returns to the world stage to boost Biden and reassure leaders after four years of Trump

At least when it comes to fighting climate change. And at least when the country as a whole is judged and not just what is happening in Washington, where the president’s climate agenda has just suffered a major cut in Congress.

It’s an extremely rare appearance by a former president at a world leaders event, but Obama’s aides and friends tell CNN that the former president wants to help Biden regain global faith in American leadership on this issue and make it happen. the global alliance get back on track after four. years of Trump.

Obama “has a following around the world,” said John Podesta, who worked on climate issues in the Obama White House and remains in contact with the former president. “Poll after poll shows that young people in particular are desperate to know if democracy can work, if politicians are up to the task. They see Obama as inspiring and who says it like he is.”

Obama’s presence at COP26 began with suggestions from climate activists. But it really took shape in the conversation with John Kerry, his former secretary of state and Biden’s special presidential envoy for the climate, people familiar with the conversations told CNN.

The White House was eager for help, said the officials, who requested anonymity to discuss the behind-the-scenes conversations.

Still, Obama’s trip doesn’t just reflect an acknowledgment in the Biden White House and beyond how much international faith in America declined during the Trump years. It also reflects an awareness of how much more Obama connects with people globally, even now as a former president, than Biden as president in the Oval Office.

Even when Obama was at his most popular in America, he was always much more popular abroad, and his election seemed like a symbol of the global superpower that embraced internationalism and a new forward-thinking generation. Obama remains the inspiring figure around the world, particularly among the young people he will spend much of his time with while in Scotland. In coordination with his own foundation and the Columbia University School of Climate, he will host a panel discussion with young activists (including many alumni of his global scholarship programs) and urge business leaders to accelerate their own clean energy investments .

A State Department official called Obama “one of our strongest advocates for action globally,” adding that he will be “a welcome voice” in describing the unusual team approach of two presidents.

-You can talk to him?

Biden hopes to come across as more than aspirational talk and empty promises. Obama hopes to come across as more than just a geopolitical celebrity and is instead shedding his credibility and popularity to back Biden. That’s especially the case with the president trying to convince the country and the world to view the $ 500 billion in funding that survived the Congressional infrastructure negotiations as a success, and not a failure because of what little remains of his goal. original.

Many people think it could work. But after Trump, they have their doubts.

“Obama was one of the architects of the Paris Agreement and President Biden has confirmed that the United States is fully committed to climate action,” said Carolina Schmidt, Chile’s Environment Minister and president of the last meeting of the Conference of the Parties. (COP) held in 2019 at a time of intense international panic over Trump’s policy guided by his conspiracy that climate change is a Chinese hoax. Trump announced in 2017 that he was withdrawing from the Paris Accords, which were based on country-by-country commitments to reduce carbon emissions through government action. Biden re-entered the deal in one of his first moves in office.

But, Schimdt added, “we need not only leaders, but concrete commitments from all countries, but especially from the big emitters, who follow the signs of being carbon neutral by 2050 at the latest. In that sense, all the commitments of the El The fact that the United States is helping to reach these global agreements is good news. ”

After asking to speak anonymously, a European Union diplomat was more forthright about how Biden’s difficulties in getting his agenda passed in Congress have been perceived, even with the arrival of the current and former president in Scotland.

“It’s great to see the United States again on the front lines of the global climate fight. But what you manage to do domestically is just as important as what you bring to the table internationally,” the diplomat said. “So the international pressure is great and without all these additional diplomatic efforts, we would certainly be in a worse place, but there is an outstanding question: can you lead by example?”

Biden sees the fight against climate change as an existential issue and the highest priority for his presidency, and his advisers argue that he is taking the direction that Obama set, but trying to turn it into reality. That applies to much of what is on the infrastructure bill, but also a variety of executive actions and regulations with which the White House is moving forward on its own authority.

Changing roles

Biden was chosen as a running mate in 2008 in part to shore up Obama’s lack of foreign affairs experience and credibility at the time. Now the roles are reversed and Obama will be the one to back Biden. However, careful not to overshadow Biden, Obama will not arrive at the COP until November 8, a week after Biden’s appearance at the event, starting this Monday. That moment was carefully sequenced: Obama will give a formal address to the assembled diplomats, but it will be after most of the world’s leaders leave.

Podesta helped lead Obama’s efforts at the White House for the Paris Climate Accords in 2015 and was one of the climate activists who urged the former president to address this year’s COP to help defend the case. He said there are critical messages that Obama is in a unique position to convey about America’s reassertion after Trump, but also about how local efforts to combat climate change continued in the United States even as Trump withdrew from the international agreement.

“Even with someone who was furiously trying to go the opposite direction, America stayed the course because people of goodwill in local offices and in governors’ mansions across the country stepped in and kept us on track.” Podesta said. “That’s a different story than ‘Oh, you can’t trust America because they elected Trump.’ That is heard a lot. And this is the other way of thinking. “

As Obama heads to Scotland, his foundation is producing material on its own work to bring the international climate conversation to this point. That includes a video that narrates, resuming his appearance at the COP15 conference in Copenhagen during the first year of his presidency, in which an international climate agreement was not finalized, and follows the diplomatic work that he led during the rest of his presidency. , which culminated in the Paris Accords. Arguing an argument that he will pick up in Scotland, he says in the video, “Paris gives us the vehicle through which to bring about the changes that are necessary, but what is still required is the will and activism of citizens who put pressure on their governments. to be ambitious. ”

There is also an oral history of climate work that concludes with Obama and some of the most involved attendees in the Paris negotiations addressing “The Work That Remains.”

“I think a testament to their resistance was the fact that my successor in the White House unilaterally decided to withdraw from the Paris Accords and yet, despite what could have been a major symbolic blow that collapsed the entire agreement, Every other country in the world stood firm, “Obama says in that story. “So even though we were on the sidelines, all the other major countries said, no, we’re going to move on. And now we have a US government that is once again ready to take the lead in this process.”

“He knows that the witness is passing,” said Podesta, who is also part of that oral history, “but he knows that he has an important role.”


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