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World leaders call for 'urgent' climate action as terrorism rears its head

World leaders call for 'urgent' climate action as terrorism rears its head

PARIS, France -- More than 150 world leaders converged in Paris on Monday expressing optimism for the United Nations-backed climate change summit meant that is meant to seal the ambitious deal on climate change and keep global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius.

But for many of them, the start of the long-planned climate summit in Paris just weeks after 130 people were killed by Islamic State militants in the French capital, addressing the coincidental convergence of global warming and terrorism was unavoidable.

In a tightly secured site of the climate talks in Le Bourget, French President Francois Hollande officially started the two weeks negotiations by saying that countries can work together in dealing with climate change and terrorism.

Most heads of state and prime ministers offered condolences to their French hosts, pivoting quickly, sometimes awkwardly, to the climate talks.

Many said the decision to press on with the summit in Paris so soon after the attacks was itself a rebuke to extremists trying to sow fear and disrupt normal life.

“To resolve the climate crisis, good will, statements of intent are not enough,” Hollade said. “What is at stake is the future of the planet and the future of life.”

Hollande reiterated that the climate agreement must be “universal, differentiated and binding” to keep any further increase in global temperatures to 1.5 or less than 2 degrees Celsius.

To get a successful deal by the end of the 21st Conference of Parties (COP 21) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Secretary General Ban Ki-moon enumerated four criteria: the agreement must be durable; it must be dynamic; it must embody solidarity with the poor and most vulnerable; it must be credible.

“Bold climate action is in the national interest of every single country represented at this conference. The time for brinksmanship is over,” the UN Secretary General said in his speech. “Let us build a durable climate regime with clear rules of the road that all countries can agree to follow.”

Ban also stressed that developed countries must keep their pledge to mobilize the $100 billion dollars a year by 2020 Green Climate Fund.

He said that a new agreement must also include a single transparent framework for measuring, monitoring and reporting progress. And countries with low capacity must receive flexibility and support so they can meet the requirements of this new system.

“This is a pivotal moment for the future of your countries, your people and our common home. You can no longer delay,” he said. “Let me be clear: The fate of a Paris agreement rests with you. We cannot afford indecision, half measures or merely gradual approaches.  Our goal must be transformation.”

On rescuing a fragile planet

Prince Charles of Wales, a long-time advocate of climate change, reminded all countries that the deliberations over the next two weeks of the summit “will decide the fate not only of those alive today, but also of generations yet unborn.”

“I can only urge you to think of your grandchildren, as I think of mine, and those billions of people without a voice; those for whom hope is the rarest of sensations those for whom a secure life is a distant prospect,” Prince Charles lamented.

He added that on an increasingly crowded planet, humanity faces many threats -- but none is greater than climate change. “It magnifies every hazard and tension of our existence. It threatens our ability to feed ourselves; to remain healthy and safe from extreme weather; to manage the natural resources that support our economies, and to avert the humanitarian disaster of mass migration and increasing conflict.”

“If, at last, the moment has arrived to take those long-awaited steps towards rescuing our planet and our fellow man from impending catastrophe, then let us pursue that vital goal in a spirit of enlightened and humane collaboration.”

On the other hand, China’s President Xi Jinping said that the talks must produce a robust agreement that addresses economic differences between and among countries that also allow different countries to draw their own solutions to climate change.

“Tackling climate change is a shared mission for humankind,” President Xi said. “It requires strenuous efforts but we have confidence and resolve to fulfill our commitments.”

US President Barack Obama said that his country recognizes its role in creating this problem of carbon pollution but stressed that they have also made significant improvements in the past years.

“For all the challenges we face, the growing threat of climate change could define the contour of this century than any other. I come here personally as the leader of the world’s biggest economy and second-biggest emitter to say that America not only acknowledges its role in climate change but embraces something about it,” Obama said.

He then enumerated the progress the US has made towards reducing its carbon emissions: deployment of renewable energy like wind and solar; rejection of the controversial XL Pipeline; and the implementation or rigid rules for power plants.

“Our task here in Paris is to turn these achievements into an enduring framework for human progress, not a stop-gap solution, but a long-term strategy that gives the world confidence in a low-carbon future,” Obama said.

A matter of survival

The fight against climate change is a matter of survival, President Benigno Aquino III said as he spoke about the “vicious cycle of destruction and reconstruction” in the Philippines as well as in vulnerable, low-lying countries threatened by rising seas.

Since 2010, President Aquino stated that on an annual basis, climate injustice has claimed more than 50,000 lives from V20 countries -- and this number will increase exponentially in the near future.

“Consider further the danger faced by island-nations such as Kiribati, Tuvalu, and the Maldives, whose existence is threatened by rising water levels. Their extinction will be a certainty, unless we pursue realizable goals that acknowledge that, for some nations, the fight against climate change is a matter of survival,” Aquino said.

The primary challenge, he said, has been to move people to less vulnerable areas, on the assumption that such exist -- or to make interventions that mitigate the impacts of climate change.

“We are indeed hard pressed to build back better especially in the aftermath of Haiyan (Yolanda), and I must submit, we cannot do this in isolation,” he said.

Stakes are high

UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres told the world leaders: “You have the opportunity, in fact the responsibility, to finalize an agreement that enables the achievement of national climate change goals, that delivers the necessary support for the developing world and that catalyzes continuously increasing ambition and action by all.”

Figueres said that the past year had been a turning point and that after many years of hard work, the world was finally seeing that the direction towards a low-carbon, resilient future was irreversible.

“This turning point is truly remarkable, but the task is not done. It is up to you to both capture this progress and chart an unequivocal path forward, with a clear destination, agreed milestones and a predictable timeline that responds to the demands of science and the urgency of the challenge,” the UN climate chief said.

As the climate talks commence on Monday, about 184 nations have already put forward their national climate action plan or so-called the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). These action plans constitute a good foundation, but are not enough to keep the world below the internationally agreed maximum global average temperature rise of 2 degrees Celsius.

COP21 president French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius called on governments to step up their efforts, saying that "the stakes are too high, and the menace of climate change is too great for us to be content with a minimalistic agreement. The Heads of State and Government who have come to Paris have come to express the voice of ambition.”

Ahead of the Paris meeting, thousands of companies and investors and thousands of mayors and regional governments announced their commitment to the essential economic and social transformation to low-carbon, sustainable growth and development.

Climate change and terror

Obama also linked the threat of heatwaves, floods and drought to the potential for climate refugees and political instability.

He warned of a possible future with "political disruptions that trigger new conflicts, leaving more floods of desperate peoples seeking the sanctuary of nations not their own."

Prime Minister Charles Michel of Belgium, a nation on high alert after the November 13 attacks in Paris involved at least two suicide bombers from Brussels, also cited climate change as "the cause of tension, inequalities, crises and conflicts."

But it was Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga of the Pacific island nation of Tuvalu who made by far the most direct link, voicing an idea that has become a newly contentious aspect of the climate issue: "the effects of climate change ... we strongly believe is also the cause of radicalism and terrorism."

"The plight of refugees we see today ... and increasing terrorism and radicalism, represents a small measure of what the world, mankind, will face if we do not tackle climate change."

A connection between a warming planet and migrant-related instability has in recent years been cautiously cited in several places as an additional rationale for cutting back on carbon emissions, and has drawn more attention in recent weeks after comments by both US Secretary of State John Kerry and Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.

"By fueling extreme weather events, undermining our military readiness, exacerbating conflicts around the world -- climate change is a threat to the security of the United States and, indeed, to the security and stability of countries everywhere," Kerry said in a speech in Virginia on November 10.

Last week, Prince Charles said that one of the "major reasons for this horror in Syria" was climate change. He made no mention of those ideas in Paris on Monday, beyond worrying that the world's focus was being diverted by other crises "that can be seen as greater and more immediate threats."

The comments have provoked a sharp rebuke from many critics, particularly Republicans in the United States, who see it as a purely political effort to use fears over public safety to drive an unrelated climate agenda.

Some studies have made the connection. In 2013, a panel of UN scientists said climate change could "indirectly increase risks of violent conflicts by amplifying well-documented drivers of these conflicts such as poverty and economic shocks."

A paper in the US journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in March said there was evidence that man-made climate change had contributed to a 2007-2010 drought in Syria that was a contributing factor to the civil war.

In in Paris, a few speakers made little effort at a graceful segue from terrorism to climate change.

After saying that both Israel and France were the victims of terrorism, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu went on: "If President (Palestinian President Mahmoud) Abbas is committed to peace he must stop inciting his people against Israel."

Shifting tack, he continued: "Today we must focus on the security, not just of the nations of the world, but of the world itself."