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Former President Barack Obama briefly spoke Tuesday to a summit of mayors from around the world gathered in Chicago to address concerns about climate change since President Donald Trump rejected the Paris climate accord. (Dec. 5) AP

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CHICAGO — Former president Barack Obama on Tuesday praised American mayors, business leaders, and academics as being the "new face of American leadership on climate change" now that President Trump has abandoned an international climate accord that Obama helped forge during his presidency.

The comments from Obama came at a gathering in Chicago of mayors and municipal officials from the U.S. and around globe to discuss climate change in light of Trump’s declaration earlier this year that he will withdraw the U.S. from the landmark Paris Agreement.

As part of the North American Climate Summit, the mayors signed a pledge dubbed the “Chicago Climate Charter” — a non-binding pact in which the cities agree to continue working toward the goal of reducing greenhouse emission as set out by the Paris accord.

"In this environment right now, it's easy sometimes to feel discouraged, and feel as if people are talking past each other," said Obama, who did not mention President Trump by name in his 14-minute address to the summit. "This is where the particular talents of mayors come in. Because first of all, you are used to dealing with folks who can sometimes be unreasonable. You are accustomed to having to deal with the realities in front of you and take action, not just talk about it."

Trump announced in June that he was withdrawing the U.S. from the climate accord. Under terms of the agreement — which was negotiated during Obama’s tenure in the White House — nations can’t officially give notice of their departure from the non-binding agreement until November 2019. Syria announced last month that it would join the accord, leaving the U.S. as the only country out of the agreement once it can formally withdraw — a fact that Obama called "difficult to defend."

Trump criticized the Paris Agreement, which sets the goal of holding global warming below 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, as an example of a deal “that disadvantages the United States to the exclusive benefit of other countries.”

One part of the Paris Agreement that big cities won’t be able to duplicate: contributing billions of dollars that the U.S. (during the Obama administration) and other governments pledged to help developing countries transition to cleaner forms of energy.

The ex-president made the case to the friendly crowd that curbing carbon emissions and promoting economic growth are not mutually exclusive.

Obama noted that his administration pushed for new regulations limiting the amount of carbon pollution existing power plants could release in the air, promoted wind and solar energy and set new fuel economy standards for vehicles.

"We met resistance every step of the way," Obama said. "There were skeptics who said these actions would kill jobs and depress growth. Instead after we took these actions, we saw the U.S. economy grow consistently, we saw the longest streak of job creation in American history by far. It's a streak that continues, by the way."

Obama quipped about his economic record, "Thanks, Obama."

Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton, who signed the mayor's pact, said that Trump’s decision to back out of the accord has been damaging to the United States reputation worldwide and has the potential to hurt the American economy.

“Mayors like me around the country have no choice but to step up to the plate and send a message to people in our communities, around the country and around the globe that we are not going to give up our role in sustainability or fighting climate change,” Stanton said. “We understand that clean energy is our economic future, and we can’t build an economy by looking backwards.” 

More: Forget Paris: U.S. mayors sign their own pact after Trump ditches climate accord

More: Chicago Climate Charter, explained: What cities say they'll do to reduce greenhouse gases

More: The U.S. is now the only country not part of Paris climate agreement after Syria signs on

 

 

 

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