The single most important benchmark underpinning this week’s talks in Paris on climate change—two degrees Celsius—has guided climate-treaty discussions for decades, but scientists are at odds on the relevance of that target.
President Barack Obama told world leaders that the climate talks that opened Monday in Paris mark a turning point for collective action on global warming and stand as a rejection of the terrorists who struck the French capital a little more than two weeks ago.
The threat posed by climate change is the defining challenge of the century, Obama told the United Nations-sponsored summit organized to reach the first truly global agreement to curb greenhouse gases. Linking the meeting to the battle against extremism, Obama said that bringing world leaders to Paris for the conference “is an act of defiance that proves nothing will deter us from building the future we want for our children.”
“Here in Paris we can show the world what is possible when we come together, united by a common effort and a common purpose,” Obama said.
The president told the assembled dignitaries that no nation was immune from the effects of climate change. He said the U.S., the world’s biggest economy and its second biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, accepted its role for contributing to the problem and shares the responsibility to fix it.
One of Obama’s main tasks is getting full cooperation from developing nations that don’t want to limit economic growth to fix a condition largely created by the world’s biggest economies.
Obama argued that many of the nations that have contributed little to climate change will be the first to feel its most destructive effects. Developed nations must “reaffirm our commitment that resources will be there for countries willing to do their part to skip the dirty phase of development,” he said.
To that end, the U.S. and 18 other nations — including the world’s biggest carbon emitters in the U.S., China, and India — are committing to double government investment in clean energy research and development, from $10 billion to $20 billion, over the next five years.
The effort is getting an assist from Bill Gates, the world’s richest man, who is leading a group of philanthropists in vowing to plow $2 billion into clean energy through personal investments and a new fund to be set up next year.
Twenty-eight of the world’s wealthiest investors will participate in the program, which is dedicated to providing seed funding to new technologies that can help expand the use of clean energy, particularly in the developing world.
“Given the scale of the challenge, we need to be exploring many different paths, and that means we also need to invent new approaches,” Gates said in a statement released Sunday.
The move “should send a strong signal to the markets” that leaders from the world’s largest carbon emitters are “going all-in on clean energy,” White House senior adviser Brian Deese said in a conference call with reporters.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India, which is the world’s third biggest emitter of greenhouse gases after China and the U.S., said the research funding from government and private sources will help make renewable energy cheaper, more reliable and easier to connect. India is among the countries pledging to double research investments.
“This partnership will combine the responsibility of governments with the innovation capacity of the private sector,” Modi said at an event focused on the project, which is called Mission Innovation.
Obama said the collaboration is “one of the most significant public-private partnerships ever forged.” It will mean that underdeveloped areas of the world, including parts of India, won’t be consigned to living without reliable power sources for development.
The UN climate talks aim to produce an agreement that, for the first time, would bind all nations, rich and poor, to cutting pollution from burning fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas that’s blamed for a rise in global temperatures. While leaders in Paris are eager to demonstrate that unity, that consensus has not quieted critics of Obama’s agenda back at home.
Dissent in U.S.
Even as the U.S. hopes to cement its standing as a global leader on climate change, a group of influential congressional Republicans are hoping to use the summit to undercut the president’s ambitions and scale back American funding for international efforts to combat global warming.
The White House has downplayed concerns that Republicans could submarine the talks by restricting the State Department’s ability to donate to the Green Climate Fund, the central mechanism which leaders are expected to use to assist developing countries. The administration has pledged $3 billion to the international effort, with the White House requesting $500 million of that funding this year.
The White House has aggressively courted corporate interests ahead of the talks, soliciting significant pledges and contributions that Obama intends to use as examples of how the U.S. is acting even without congressional assistance.