|U.S. President Barack Obama, left, and Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff, front row third from right, applaud as they pose with world leaders for a group photo at the COP21, United Nations Climate Change Conference, in Le Bourget, outside Paris, Monday, Nov. 30, 2015. (AP Photo/Jacky Naegelen, Pool)|
LE BOURGET, France (AP) — Addressing the twin threats of global warming and extremist violence, the largest group of world leaders ever to stand together kicked off two weeks of high-stakes climate talks outside Paris on Monday, saying that by striking an ambitious deal to cut emissions they can show terrorists what countries can achieve when they are united.
"What greater rejection of those who would tear down our world than marshaling our best efforts to save it?" President Barack Obama asked his fellow world leaders.
The gathering of 151 heads of state and government comes at a somber time for France, two weeks after militants linked to the Islamic State group killed 130 people around Paris. Fears of more attacks prompted extra-high security and a crackdown on environmental protests — and threatened to eclipse longer-term concerns about rising seas and extreme weather linked to man-made global warming.
"The challenge of an international meeting has never been so great because it's the future of the planet, the future of life," French President Francois Hollande said after a moment of silence for attack victims in France, Lebanon, Iraq, Tunisia and Mali. He urged leaders to work toward a world free from both environmental destruction and extremist violence.
A climate deal is by no means guaranteed. More than 180 countries have already submitted individual national plans, but that's just a foundation for a binding agreement that Jennifer Morgan, a climate policy expert at World Resources Institute, calls "the international glue that puts them all together."
Many of the leaders called for a binding agreement and emphasized the role of private funding. They said the world must keep the average temperature within 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) of current levels — and if possible to half that, to spare island nations threatened by rising seas.
"We just have 11 short days before us," French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said as he took over as president of the negotiations. "Success is not yet assured, but it is within our grasp... The eyes of the world are upon us and there are great hopes."
The world has already warmed nearly 1 degree Celsius since the beginning of the industrial age, and factories and cars continue to belch pollution around the world. Beijing on Monday reported one of the worst spells of air pollution in years, saying levels of soot were 25 times what the World Health Organization considers safe. That's a different pollution from carbon dioxide, but both come from burning of fossil fuel, especially coal.
Many of the leaders framed the problem as a generational issue, where current leaders owe it a liveable Earth to future generations. Britain's Prince Charles said: "None of us should assume that for our today they should give up tomorrow."
But while the relatively short speeches by world leaders pledged to do something about climate change, not all of them advocated ambitious worldwide action, perhaps giving a glimpse of sticking points to come in negotiations.
Reviving the rich-poor differences that caused earlier climate talks to fail, Chinese President Xi Jinping said an eventual global climate deal must include aid for poor countries and acknowledge differences between developing and established economies.
"Addressing climate change should not deny the legitimate needs of developing countries to reduce poverty and improve living standards," he said.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in his opening remarks, noted the rallies on Sunday in which hundreds of thousands of people around the world called on the leaders to make real progress at the talks.
"The future of the people of the world, the future of our planet, is in your hands," he told negotiators. "We cannot afford indecision, half measures or merely gradual approaches. Our goal must be a transformation."
Leaders called their attendance at the conference in Paris an act of defiance after the Nov. 13 attacks, some of which occurred near the airfield north of the city where the conference is taking place. Wide highways usually packed with commuters were cordoned off to clear the way for the VIPs. Riot police vans and plainclothes officers were stationed around the capital.
Many of the leaders paid their respects at sites linked to the attacks. Obama, in a late-night visit, placed a single flower outside the concert hall where dozens were killed, and bowed his head in silence.
"We stand with Paris," U.N. climate change agency chief Christina Figueres said. "The city of light, now more than ever, is a beacon of hope for the world."
The conference is aimed at the most far-reaching deal ever to tackle global warming. The last major agreement, the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, required only rich countries to cut emissions, and the U.S. never signed on.
Among several sticking points is money — how much rich countries should invest to help poor countries cope with climate change, how much should be invested in renewable energy, and how much traditional oil and gas producers stand to lose if countries agree to forever reduce emissions.
With that in mind, at least 19 governments and 28 leading world investors were announcing billions of dollars in investments to research and develop clean energy technology, with the goal of making it cheaper. Backers include Obama, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, billionaires George Soros and Saudi Prince Alaweed bin Talal, and Jack Ma of China's Alibaba.
Under the initiative, 19 countries pledge to double their spending on low- or no-carbon energy over the next five years. They currently spend about $10 billion a year, about half of that from the U.S.
In another announcement, the United States, Canada and nine European countries pledged nearly $250 million to help the most vulnerable countries adapt to rising seas, droughts and other impacts of climate change. Germany pledged $53 million, the U.S. $51 million and Britain $45 million.
The money will be made available to a fund for the least developed countries hosted by the Global Environment Facility, a major funder of environment projects worldwide. Other countries that contributed include Denmark, Finland, France, Ireland, Italy, Sweden and Switzerland.