Wrapping up a historic visit to Vietnam, US President Barack Obama on Wednesday praised the country’s next generation of leaders for being more conscious of the environment than previous generations and urged them to “do something about” climate change.
During his final public event here, Obama basked in the admiration of hundreds of young leaders who participated in a town hall-style event and prefaced some of their questions to him with praise about his leadership and his “inspiring speeches.”
Obama used a question about preserving a Vietnamese cave from development to pivot to climate change, one of his top issues as president. He said Vietnam will be one of the countries most affected by the trend of warming temperatures and rising seas.
“That could have a huge impact on Vietnam’s ability to feed its people, on fishermen, on farmers, and it could be a really big problem if we don’t do something about it, so it’s going to be up to you to start,” said Obama, who routinely includes question-and-answer sessions with young leaders on his foreign trips.
“One of the great things about your generation is that you’re already much more conscious about the environment than my generation was or previous generations were,” said Obama.
He told a previous questioner that he “fooled around a lot” and wasn’t serious about school when he was young.
“I was more into basketball and girls. I wasn’t always that serious,” Obama said. “You’re already way ahead of me. That’s good.”
Obama also promoted a 12-nation, trans-Pacific trade pact that includes Vietnam but is stalled in the US Congress and opposed by the three leading US presidential candidates.
But he avoided wading too deeply into politics when asked where he sees himself and the world in five years, around the end of his successor’s first term. Obama has said on previous occasions that world leaders ask him all the time about the unpredictable election.
“Sometimes, our politics doesn’t express all the goodness of the people, but usually, eventually, the voters make good decisions and democracy works,” Obama said. “So I’m optimistic that we’ll get through this period.”
As for his future, Obama said he expects to stay involved with public policy issues and return to his roots as an organiser. “I’ll be like a community organiser, except a little more famous than I used to be.”