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Obama Warns Inequality Could Derail Climate Change Efforts

"You have to have enough to eat before you worry about what happens to the planet," he said at a conference in Italy.

Posted on May 9, 2017, at 6:02 p.m. ET

Andreas Solaro / AFP / Getty Images

World leaders will lack popular support to deal with pressing issues like climate change if their citizens feel the global economy is working against them, Barack Obama warned on Tuesday.

"If we do not pay attention to the increasing inequality that exists, and that technology and globalization is accelerating, there will be a backlash and resistance to technology and change and globalization, because people will feel left behind," he said.

People "will resist efforts to deal with climate change" if they're worried about feeding their children, he said. "It’s a luxury. You have to be able to have enough to eat before you worry about what happens to the planet 30 years from now."

Obama, whose post-presidential speaking career is kicking into gear, was speaking at the Seeds&Chips Global Food Innovation Summit in Milan. He discussed food, climate change, jobs, and automation — and connected a lack of meaningful work and purpose to political instability.

Technology, he said, is “making many sectors of the economy far more capital-intensive, far less labor-intensive, across the board.” And the trend is spreading from manufacturing to the service industry and to management, he said.

Where there are large numbers of “unemployed young men” anywhere in the world, he said, “even if they have enough to eat, but they have nothing to do, then that lack of meaning and purpose will channel itself in unhealthy ways.”

Obama's remarks on inequality were made in a broader speech about the global impacts of climate change.

"For all the challenges that we face, this is the one that will define the contours of this century more dramatically perhaps than any other," he said. "No nation, whether it's large or small, rich or poor, will be immune from the impacts."

Here's the full speech:

View this video on YouTube

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.