24 October 2016
US President Barack Obama (left) shakes hands with Chinese leader Xi Jinping during their meeting in Paris on Monday. Photo: Reuters
US President Barack Obama (left) shakes hands with Chinese leader Xi Jinping during their meeting in Paris on Monday. Photo: Reuters

World leaders urge breakthrough in Paris climate talks

World leaders launched an ambitious attempt to hold back rising temperatures, with the United States and China leading calls for the climate summit in Paris to mark a decisive turn in the fight against global warming.

In a series of opening addresses to the UN talks on Monday, heads of state and government exhorted each other to find common cause in two weeks of bargaining to steer the global economy away from its dependence on fossil fuels, Reuters reported.

French President Francois Hollande said the world was at a “breaking point”.

After decades of struggling negotiations and the failure of a summit in Copenhagen six years ago, some form of agreement – likely to be the strongest global climate pact yet – appears all but assured by mid-December.

“What should give us hope that this is a turning point, that this is the moment we finally determined we would save our planet, is the fact that our nations share a sense of urgency about this challenge and a growing realization that it is within our power to do something about it,” US President Barack Obama said.

For his part, Chinese President Xi Jinping called on rich nations to honor their commitment to provide US$100 billion a year to developing countries to tackle climate change, Agence France-Presse reported.

“It is also important that climate-friendly technologies be transferred to developing countries,” Xi said.

Rich nations pledged at the UN summit in Copenhagen to muster US$100 billion annually in financial support to poor countries starting in 2020.

However, poor nations are frustrated that rich countries have yet to fully commit to the fund, the report said.

Xi also said poor nations should not have to sacrifice economic growth.

“Addressing climate change should not deny the legitimate needs of developing countries to reduce poverty and improve their people’s living standards,” he said.

The leaders gathered in a vast conference center at Le Bourget airfield.

In all, 195 countries are taking part in the negotiating process, with a variety of leadership styles and ideologies that has made consensus elusive in the past, Reuters said.

Key issues, notably how to divide the global bill to pay for a shift to renewable energy, are still contentious.

“Climate justice demands that the little carbon space we still have, developing countries should have enough room to grow,” said India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a key player because of his country’s size and its heavy dependence on coal.

One difference this time may be the partnership between the US and China, the two biggest carbon emitters, who between them account for almost 40 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, according to the World Resources Institute think-tank.

Once far apart on climate issues, they agreed in 2014 to jointly kick-start a transition away from fossil fuels, each at its own speed and in its own way.

The US and China “have both determined that it is our responsibility to take action”, Obama said after meeting his Chinese counterpart on the sidelines of the summit.

Flying home to Rome on the papal plane after a visit to Africa, Pope Francis told journalists: “Every year the problems are getting worse. We are at the limits. If I may use a strong word I would say that we are at the limits of suicide.”

Most scientists say failure to agree on strong measures in Paris would doom the world to ever-hotter average temperatures, deadlier storms, more frequent droughts and rising sea levels as polar ice caps melt.

The gathering is being held in a somber city. Security has been tightened after Islamist militants killed 130 people on Nov. 13, and Hollande said he could not separate “the fight with terrorism from the fight against global warming”.

Leaders must face both challenges, leaving their children “a world freed of terror” as well as one “protected from catastrophes”, he said.

On the eve of the summit, an estimated 785,000 people around the world joined the biggest day of climate change activism in history, telling world leaders there was “No Planet B” in the fight against global warming.

Signaling their determination to resolve the most intractable points, senior negotiators sat down on Sunday, a day earlier than planned, to begin their work.

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