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Leaders Link Climate Change And Terrorism at Opening of Paris Climate Summit

Over 150 heads of state are gathered in the French capital for the first day of talks aimed at securing an international agreement on climate change.

by Pierre Longeray
Nov 30 2015, 7:40pm

Photo by Ian Langsond/EPA

Heads of state and government from 159 countries gathered this morning at the Paris climate talks amid tight security and a state of emergency declared following the November 13 attacks that killed 130 in the French capital. On the eve of the summit's opening, climate campaigners clashed with police on Place de la République square, chanting, "Climate change is the real state of emergency."

The goal of the UN's 21st annual meeting on climate change is to securing an international pact on cutting greenhouse gas emissions in order to keep global temperature rise to within 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels.

Related: Why the Paris Climate Summit Is a Really Big Deal

While climate may be the focus of the talks, terrorism has also made its way into the conversation, as Paris reels from a wave of terror attacks that left 130 people dead — the deadliest violence to strike the country since World War II. On Sunday, President Barack Obama visited the scene of the Bataclan massacre, laying a single rose in tribute to the 90 victims who lost their lives after three gunmen opened fire in the concert hall.

At the request of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, prior to the official launch of the summit at 11:00am this morning, world leaders observed a minute of silence in memory of those killed in the recent attacks in Paris, Beirut, and Bamako.

Terrorism and climate change are the century's two main challenges.

President Hollande and French Minister of Foreign Affairs Laurent Fabius addressed assembled world leaders and both linked the fight against terrorism to efforts to slow down climate change. Hollande said they were "the main issues of our time," while Fabius described them as "the century's two main challenges."

"2014 was the warmest year recorded, and 2015 will be even worse," said Fabius. 

Hollande said the the future of the planet was at stake and that the "hope of humanity" rested on the shoulders of world leaders. He urged all countries to adopt a universal, "binding" agreement –— meaning signatory countries could potentially be held to account with international sanctions or prosecution, rather than committing to voluntary emissions cuts. 

Group photo of the 150 heads of state present at the launch of the Paris Climate Summit.

Throughout the day, heads of state sought to lay out the stakes of the conference. The president of Paraguay was the first to speak, followed by a representative of King Mohammed VI of Morocco, which will be hosting the next climate change conference.

President Obama began his speech with a tribute to the victims of the Paris attacks and then moved to discussing climate change.

"We are the first generation to feel the impact of climate change, and the last generation that can do something about it," he said. "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 recognizes our role in creating this problem, we embrace our responsibility to do something about it."

President Xi Jinping of China, the world's leading emitter of greenhouse gases, alluded to "common and differentiated responsibilities." Encouraging rich countries to shoulder the burden of climate change, Xi said that an agreement should "not deprive developing countries of the legitimate need to reduce poverty and improve their people's livelihood."

Chancellor Angela Merkel — leader of the EU's industrial heavyweight Germany — called for a "comprehensive, fair, and binding" agreement and invited countries to earmark "100 billion dollars a year" to help vulnerable nations fight climate change. The chancellor said, "We are stronger than terrorists" and urged leaders to "try and not disappoint."

Russian president Vladimir Putin congratulated himself on Russia's progress in reducing its energy intensity, claiming the country had successfully reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 40 billion tons since 1991, compared with what would have been emitted without carbon cutting efforts.

Related: Here's What We Saw at the Huge London Protest Demanding Action on Climate Change

While the summit is the opportunity for leaders to hash out ideas and initiatives to tackle climate change (and terrorism), some heads of state are taking advantage of the summit to discuss other issues. Presidents Putin and Obama met for 30 minutes today to discuss a number of issues, including the fight against the Islamic State. Meanwhile, Hollande met his Palestinian counterpart Mahmoud Abbas and Egyptian president Abdel Fattah al Sisi.

The seating plan, from Obama to Putin, for lunch at the first day of the Paris climate talks.

On Monday afternoon, eleven countries — including France, Germany and the US — announced they had pledged 234 million euros to the Least Developed Countries Fund (LDCF) to support climate initiatives in some of the most vulnerable countries on the planet.

Many of the heads of state and government will be leaving the French capital tonight or tomorrow to let negotiators work on reaching a legally-binding and workable agreement over the next two weeks. 

Head of Oxfam International's climate program Kelly Dent said the negotiations required more than inspirational remarks from world leaders. 

"To get the deal we need for the poorest and most vulnerable people, we need to see a deal that brings more money to the table so that they can adapt and protect themselves from the affects of climate change," she said. "Every country needs to do more, but rich countries need to lead the way and look beyond 2020. The next two weeks are not going to be easy, but the deal-makers must be in no doubt that millions of people — and their leaders — expect them to deliver."

Follow Pierre Longeray on Twitter: @PLongeray

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