Global climate change conference opens to high hopes
LONDON - “The hope of all humanity rests on your shoulders,” French President François Hollande told nearly 150 heads of state at the opening session of the UN climate change conference in Paris.
Leaders from across the world gathered November 30th in the French capital to take part in the 21st Conference of the Parties — dubbed COP21 — which is seeking to reach a binding deal to reduce global carbon emissions.
“Our greatest challenge is to go from a globalisation based on competition to a model based on cooperation, where it will be more profitable to protect rather than destroy,” Hollande said.
“Here in Paris we will decide on the very future of the planet.”
One day earlier, more than 570,000 people had taken to the streets in capitals around the world, calling on global leaders to reach a stronger agreement to deal with climate change at the two-week international summit, which will bring together about 40,000 delegates from nearly 200 countries.
Security was on high across Paris, which is recovering from the ISIS terrorist attacks of November 13th. A reported 2,800 police and gendarmes were deployed around the COP21 venue on the northern outskirts of Paris. According to France’s Interior Ministry, 120,000 security officers have been mobilised across the country during the summit.
During the opening session, world leaders were given the opportunity to briefly address delegates, with various presidents, prime ministers and heads of state confirming their commitment to reach a global deal over the next two weeks.
“The presence of so many world leaders in Paris… is the clearest sign yet that we’re on the verge of an unprecedented breakthrough in the global climate effort,” head of the US-based Center for Climate and Energy Solutions Bob Perciasepe told the Guardian.
The delegates are seeking to reach a global deal on cutting carbon emissions beyond 2020, in addition to agreeing on financing to support poorer countries cope with the challenges of climate change.
Any deal would replace the Kyoto protocol, the only legally binding international climate treaty, but which only covers the European Union, Australia and a handful of other countries and which runs out in 2020. The Copenhagen accord, which went into effect at the 2009 Conference of the Parties, is a non-binding declaration that covers voluntary carbon emission cuts. It also expires in 2020.
The leaders of the world’s two largest carbon emitters — the United States and China — pledged to work with the international community to secure a deal, raising hopes that a serious and binding agreement can be reached.
“I’ve come here personally, as the leader of the world’s largest economy and the second-largest emitter, to say that the United States of America not only recognises our role in creating this problem, we embrace our responsibility to do something about it,” US President Barack Obama said.
Chinese President Xi Jinping also backed efforts to reach a binding agreement on cutting carbon emissions, describing the conference as a “new starting point”. Beijing was criticised for blocking a binding deal at the Copenhagen summit in 2009.
But Xi also warned that tackling climate change must not come at the expense of national development. “Countries should be allowed to seek their own solutions, according to their national interests,” he said.
Ahead of the conference, more than 182 countries — representing 99% of global carbon emissions — submitted pledges to the United Nations but analysts warn that the pledges will fail to meet the stated goal of limiting global warming to no more than 2 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels by the end of the century.
According to forecasts global temperatures will rise by 3 degrees based on the pledges, with this rising a further 4-6 degrees if carbon emissions remain at current levels, with delegates expected to seek a compromise during COP21.
However, more than 100 poorer countries, including dozens of small-island states that face major repercussions from climate change, have called for a tougher goal of 1.5 degrees be enforced.
The 2009 UN climate conference saw a pledge from rich countries to provide more than $100 billion a year in financial support for poorer countries develop technology and build infrastructure to cut emissions. COP21 is also to discuss where the money will come from and how it will be distributed.
“All the leaders have come to Paris and are here together in one place at the same time with one purpose. We have never faced such a test — a political momentum like this may not come again. But neither have we encountered such a great opportunity. You have the power to secure the well-being of this and succeeding generations,” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said at the opening ceremony.
“Paris must mark a decisive turning point. We need the world to know that we are headed to a low-emissions, climate-resilient future and that there is no going back.”