U.S. President Barack Obama delivers his last State of the Union in the House of Representatives chamber of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. Screencap via White House Youtube

U.S. President Barack Obama may have delivered on his promise of a (barely) shorter State of the Union during his last such address as president, but it was still stacked — maybe more than ever — with references to foreign affairs and development.

Obama applauded U.S. military, doctors and development workers for leading the way in stamping out the Ebola epidemic, mentioned partnering with local forces in Syria to pursue lasting peace and welcomed a Syrian refugee to the SOTU, one of among about two dozen guests invited to sit with first lady Michelle Obama.

In Obama's final SOTU, global dev gets unexpected airtime

In a speech that was more reflective and hopeful than action-oriented, U.S. President Barack Obama linked global development issues to U.S. leadership and national security.

The president challenged the low expectations that accompany election season and later cited COP21, warning anyone still disputing the science around climate change of their impending loneliness “because you’ll be debating our military, most of America’s business leaders, the majority of the American people, almost the entire scientific community, and 200 nations around the world who agree it’s a problem and intend to solve it."

That wasn’t all. Here’s what else Obama touched on — along with a few ways for you to catch up on the topic.

1. Technology for change and the spirit of innovation .

What Obama said: “Second, how do we make technology work for us, and not against us — especially when it comes to solving urgent challenges like climate change?”

What to read:
How would tech entrepreneurs recode the foreign aid system?
6 tech companies changing the face of peacekeeping

What to watch:

Breaking down silos at the intersection of meaning and money is the hot topic at #SOCAP2015, the Social Capital Markets conference in San Francisco, where the tech world collides with the biggest global development challenges we face. Devex's Catherine Cheney brings the highlights.

2. Ebola.

What Obama said: “That’s how we stopped the spread of Ebola in West Africa. Our military, our doctors, and our development workers set up the platform that allowed other countries to join us in stamping out that epidemic.” 

What to read:
42 days later: Liberia declared Ebola-free
Lessons from Ebola: The urgent need to build resilient health systems

3. Syria.

What Obama said: “That’s our approach to conflicts like Syria, where we’re partnering with local forces and leading international efforts to help that broken society pursue a lasting peace.”

What to read:
Who’s giving to the Syrian people?
Opportunities amid challenges for Syria's neighbors

4. Trans-Pacific Partnership.

What Obama said: “With TPP, China doesn’t set the rules in that region, we do. You want to show our strength in this century? Approve this agreement. Give us the tools to enforce it.”

What to read:
Why Obama's legacy trade agreement matters for development
What the WTO ministerial conference could mean for LDCs

5. Climate and clean energy.

What Obama said: "Look, if anybody still wants to dispute the science around climate change, have at it. You’ll be pretty lonely, because you’ll be debating our military, most of America’s business leaders, the majority of the American people, almost the entire scientific community, and 200 nations around the world who agree it’s a problem and intend to solve it."

What to read:
How to transform climate change from crisis to opportunity
3 questions raised by the Paris climate agreement

What to watch:

Planet Worth is an online conversation exploring leading solutions in the fight against climate change. Hosted by Devex and our partners, the campaign examines how the impact of climate change on livelihoods and ecosystems is felt across all sectors and is linked to key issues like migration, water access and food security.

6. The fight to end HIV and AIDS, malaria.

What Obama said: “When we help African countries feed their people and care for the sick, that prevents the next pandemic from reaching our shores. Right now, we are on track to end the scourge of HIV/AIDS, and we have the capacity to accomplish the same thing with malaria — something I’ll be pushing this Congress to fund this year.”

What to read:
Lessons from Ebola can help with malaria fight
The fight against malaria, at a critical juncture
Where does the world stand in the fight against HIV and AIDS?

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About the author

  • Kelli Rogers

    Kelli Rogers is an Associate Editor for Devex. Based on the U.S. West Coast, she works with Devex's team of correspondents and editors around the world, with a particular focus on gender. She previously worked as Devex’s Southeast Asia correspondent based in Bangkok, covering disaster and crisis response, resilience, women’s rights, and climate change throughout the region. Prior to that, she reported on social and environmental issues from Nairobi, Kenya. Kelli holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri, and has since reported from more than 20 countries.