China and the United States, the world’s two biggest polluters, kicked off the Paris climate summit by pledging to lead the fight against global warming and vowing close cooperation.
US President Barack Obama and Chinese leader Xi Jinping met privately on the first day of the summit, discussing a range of global and regional issues, including the fight against Islamic State terrorism, technology security between the two countries and peaceful resolution of maritime disputes in the South China Sea, according to reports.
In a joint statement, they reaffirmed pollution-controlling pledges they had made in the last year, saying the summit “presents a crucial opportunity to enhance action to meet this fundamental climate change challenge.”
China’s commitment came as its capital, Beijing, recorded its worst air pollution of the year—almost 20 times beyond the WHO safe limit.
“As the two largest economies in the world and the two largest carbon-emitters, we have both determined that it is our responsibility to take action,” Obama said.
Describing climate change as “a huge challenge”, Xi said it is “very important for China and the United States to be firmly committed to the right direction of building a new model of major country relations,” including by “partnering with each other to help the climate conference deliver its expected targets.”
Referring to disagreements on cyber-security and maritime security issues, Obama also said nowhere had coordination with Beijing been more critical or fruitful than on climate change, according to Associated Press.
He credited US and Chinese leadership with leading 180 nations to make their own pledges to curb emissions in the run-up to the Paris talks.
“Our leadership on this issue has been absolutely vital,” Obama said.
Xi said that global worries made it even more important for the US and China to work together.
“The world economy is recovering slowly, terrorism is on the rise, and climate change is a huge challenge. There is more instability and uncertainty in international situations,” the Chinese leader was quoted as saying.
“Tackling climate change is a shared mission of all mankind,” Xi said.
More than 150 world leaders and negotiators from nearly 200 countries in Paris for the climate talks say the stakes are too high to end the conference without achieving a binding agreement to help slow the pace of global climate change.
“A political moment like this may not come again,” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told leaders gathered for the conference.
“We have never faced such a test. But neither have we encountered such great opportunity.”
The sole mission of the conference is to reach a legally binding and international climate agreement limiting global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius.
COP20, the 20th and previous Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change held in Peru last December, is largely seen as a failed attempt to deliver real solutions to the global climate crisis.
Obama also addressed economic issues associated with climate change, saying recent US economic growth has come despite reduced pace of carbon emissions, proving that climate advancements need not come at the expense of the economy or individual livelihoods, said CNN.
“That’s what we seek in these next two weeks—not simply an agreement to roll back the pollution we put into the skies, but an agreement that helps us lift people from poverty without condemning the next generation to a planet that is beyond its capacity to repair,” he said.
Xi said that the conference “is not a finish line, but a new starting point” and that any agreement must take into account the differences among nations.
“Countries should be allowed to seek their own solutions, according to their national interest,” he said.
In this regard, nations were asked to outline in advance what measures they were prepared to take, noted Forbes, with 180 countries covering more than 95 percent of global emissions responding.
These include China committing to reduce its emissions intensity (the amount of CO2 emitted per unit of GDP) by 60-65 percent compared to 2005 levels and to obtain 20 percent of its energy from non-fossil fuels by 2030, while the US is to cut emissions by 26-28 percent from 2005 levels by 2025.
China emits about 30 percent of the world’s greenhouse gases and the US about 16 percent.
Both countries have sought to use their cooperation on the issue to ramp up pressure on developed and developing countries alike to pledge ambitious cuts.
As the conference kicked off, the US State Department announced early Monday that Washington was pledging US$51 million to a global fund to help poorer countries adapt to climate change.
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