MONTREAL – The Paris climate agreement still has a chance despite the "temporary absence of American leadership," Barack Obama said Tuesday, adding that he was cheered that U.S. states, cities, corporations and others have decided to carry on with the Paris commitments.
The former U.S. president made the remarks in a speech to the Montreal Chamber of Commerce and got a round of applause from the business crowd for mentioning the Paris accord.
President Donald Trump announced last week he would pull the U.S. out of the Paris agreement. Trump argues the climate agreement has disadvantaged the U.S. and benefited other countries, leaving American businesses and taxpayers to absorb the costs.
"Obviously I'm disappointed with the current American administration decision to put out of Paris," Obama said. "We're going to have to act with more urgency. I'm looking forward to the United States being a leader and not just on the sidelines going forward."
Obama said many jobs have been created in clean industries over the last decade. "For all those jobs that were lost in coal, many multiples of jobs were gained in the solar industry but those didn't get advertised," he said.
He said costs of clean energy have become comparable to "dirty" energy and that has changed the economics of investment in industry.
"All that work that we did is now embedded by decisions by companies around America and around the world," he said. "It's not as if Walmart is now going to suddenly reverse itself. They are going to continue to build on the clean energy they've invested in because it's going to save them money."
Obama said he is hugely invested in dealing with climate change because he has daughters and he will at some point have some granddaughters.
"This won't likely affect me as much as it will affect them," he said. "If we don't act now then it is going to be that much more difficult for the next generation to deal with the warming of the planet."
Obama did not mention Trump by name in his speech and in a question and answer session afterward. But the former president said that while such instincts of retrenchment are understandable and tempting, they must be avoided.
"History also shows there is a better way," he said. "Canada shows, the United States, Europe, Japan show it is possible for us to overcome our fears and to reach across our divides."