May 9 (UPI) -- Former President Barack Obama defended the importance of the Paris climate agreement during a speech Tuesday in Milan, Italy, as the Trump administration decides whether to pull out of the accord.
Obama spoke overseas for the first time since leaving the White House. He was the keynote speaker at the third annual Seeds & Chips Global Food Innovation Summit on food scarcity and climate change.
"During the course of my presidency, I made climate change a top priority because I believe that of all the challenges that we face, this is the one that will define the contours of this century, more dramatically perhaps than any other," Obama said at the summit.
"We have been able to bring our emissions down even as we grow our economy. The same is true in many parts of Europe."
He said the United States must show leadership and not "sit on the sidelines."
Obama did not specifically name Trump or criticize his administration's policies.
Trump campaigned on a promise to take the nation out of the accord and the White House said Tuesday the president has delayed announcing his intentions until after this month's Group of 7 meeting in Sicily, Italy.
Obama noted his policies helped the United States improve its wind power production and increase solar power production tenfold as costs for renewable energy are now comparable to oil and gas.
"The current administration has differences with my administration in terms of energy policy, and that's part of what happens in democracy. So there will be useful debate that takes place in America," he said.
The climate accord went into force in November with 145 countries supporting it, including China, the world's top polluter. The United States is the second-biggest offender.
Under the agreement, countries commit to a voluntary plan to reduce emissions in an effort to keep the global rise in temperatures to below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
Besides climate control, Obama also supports improved food production.
In 2009, Obama initiated his Feed the Future campaign with a mission "to build a world free from hunger, poverty and undernutrition." It is part of the U.S. government's Global Food & Food Security Initiative.
Also, former first lady Michelle Obama initiated the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act in 2010, providing much needed healthy meals for schoolkids. But last week, the Department of Agriculture announced plans to roll back nutrition standards for federally subsidized school lunch meals.
Obama said at the summit climate change is "making it more difficult to produce food," which can lead to political instability.
Obama noted global warming, food shortages and increased migration are linked.
"Some of the refugee flows into Europe originate not only from conflict but also from places where there are food shortages that will get far worse as climate change continues," he said. "So if we don't take the action necessary to slow and ultimately stop these trends, the migration that has put such a burden on Europe already will just continue to get worse."