At the end of his four-day tour of Vietnam, President Barack Obama told a gathering of young people that they should tackle the issue of climate change, complimenting them for their environmentally-conscious attitudes.
Obama answered questions from members of the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative at a town hall event in Ho Chi Minh City. YSEALI is “Obama’s signature program to strengthen leadership development and networking in Southeast Asia,” according to its website.
In response to a question about the preservation of a Vietnamese cave, Obama lectured the group about the environmental issues facing the country, something he has made a focus of his presidency. “He said Vietnam will be one of the countries most affected by the trend of warming temperatures and rising seas,” AP reported.
“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,” Obama said.
He added, "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.”
This commentary comes two days after Obama lifted the decades-long weapons embargo on the communist country. The decision angered critics, among them Vietnam War veterans. “Obama defended the decision to lift the arms ban despite Vietnam's dismal record on human rights -- involving the jailing of dissidents and stalled political reforms -- saying sales would be evaluated on a ‘case-by-case’ basis,” CNN reported.
The U.S. Agency for International Development has said rising ocean levels, caused by the melting of polar ice caps, will drastically impact low-lying Vietnam. Public Radio International reported that some also worry about salt water intruding the country’s many rice paddies.
“Vietnam is also one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to the effects of climate change," according to USAID. "A one-meter rise in sea-level will inundate approximately 9 percent of Vietnam’s territory, directly affecting an even larger percentage of the nation’s population, with economic damages costing 10 percent of the gross domestic product.”
It is curious Obama chose to focus on climate change in Vietnam, as the country is arguably dealing with much more important issues. The Heritage Foundation labels Vietnam as “mostly unfree,” writing, “the Socialist Republic of Vietnam remains a Communist dictatorship characterized by political repression and an absence of civil liberties.”
Obama continued his tour of Asia in Japan Wednesday, where he will be the first sitting visit U.S. president to visit Hiroshima.