President Barack Obama
declared before other world leaders at the annual Conference of Parties global climate change conference, “We have come to Paris to show our resolve…What greater rejection to those who would tear down our world than marshaling our efforts to save it?” Speaking on November 30 at the kick-off of the COP21
summit, Obama reiterated statements he made in the aftermath of the deadly November 13 terrorist attack in Paris in which he said that the best way to combat global terrorism is to defeat global climate change.
Obama repeated in his remarks many of the arguments made by climate activists and some scientists over climate change and evidence of the human contribution to global warming and greenhouse gas emissions. Obama said, “Our understanding of the ways human beings disrupt the climate advances by the day. Fourteen of the fifteen warmest years on record have occurred since the year 2000 -- and 2015 is on pace to be the warmest year of all. No nation -- large or small, wealthy or poor -- is immune to what this means.”
Obama painted a grim picture for the assembled delegates, while claiming that the world is facing drowned cities and vanishing shorelines due to rising seas. He said, “This summer, I saw the effects of climate change firsthand in our northernmost state, Alaska, where the sea is already swallowing villages and eroding shorelines; where permafrost thaws and the tundra burns; where glaciers are melting at a pace unprecedented in modern times. And it was a preview of one possible future -- a glimpse of our children’s fate if the climate keeps changing faster than our efforts to address it. Submerged countries. Abandoned cities. Fields that no longer grow. Political disruptions that trigger new conflict, and even more floods of desperate peoples seeking the sanctuary of nations not their own. 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.”
Vowing that the U.S. will come to the aid of developing countries confronted by climate change, Obama pledged to spend U.S. tax dollars on various international programs destined for the education of foreign bureaucrats and other projects. “Here in Paris, let’s also make sure that these resources flow to the countries that need help preparing for the impacts of climate change that we can no longer avoid. We know the truth that many nations have contributed little to climate change but will be the first to feel its most destructive effects. For some, particularly island nations -- whose leaders I’ll meet with tomorrow -- climate change is a threat to their very existence. And that’s why today, in concert with other nations, America confirms our strong and ongoing commitment to the Least Developed Countries Fund. And tomorrow, we’ll pledge new contributions to risk insurance initiatives that help vulnerable populations rebuild stronger after climate-related disasters.”
Through the United Nations, and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), projects in countries such as China, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam have been funded through the Global Environment Facility. Even before the meeting commenced in Paris, eleven donors pledged nearly $250 million for the Least Developed Countries Fund (LDCF) to help vulnerable states adapt to climate change, the Global Environment Facility (GEF) declared on November 30. "We know that many billions are required over the next few years to fill the gap in climate finance, but the money pledged today is vital to help some of the most vulnerable people on the planet cope with the immediate impacts of our rapidly warming world," GEF chief executive Naoko Ishii said.
Contributed by United States, the EU countries, and Canada, the $248 million are intended to fund existing requests for investment and development support, as well as "new approaches to agriculture to national adaptation planning and building resilience against climate change variability and disasters."
Also on November 30, another $500-million initiative to cut carbon emissions by developing countries was announced by the World Bank, Germany, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland.
French President François Hollande officially opened the annual talks at a tent city erected outside of Paris at Le Bourget airfield as 140 heads of state and 30,000 delegates and diplomats came to witness whether a global accord on climate change can be reached. In a hall full of rulers, diplomats and other officials, Hollande said “Never have the stakes of an international meeting been so high, since what is at stake is the future of the planet, the future of life.”
In concert with Obama, Hollande said that terrorism and greenhouse gas go hand in hand. “I’m not choosing between the fight against terrorism and the fight against global warming. These are two global challenges we must overcome. We must leave our children more than a world free of terrorism. We owe them a planet protected from disasters,” he said, adding, “Essentially, what is at stake at this climate conference is peace.”
Among the other leaders are Chinese President Xi Jinping, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Israeli Premier Binyamin Netanyahu, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, as well as UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon. Ban told the assembled leaders, “You have the moral and political responsibility for this world, and for us and succeeding generations.”
The United States under the Paris deal has pledged to cut its emissions 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. The European Union will cut its levels 40 percent by 2030. China has said it will peak its emissions by that year. Europe has demanded that any deal out of Paris be legally binding. In fact, it was one of three pillars Hollande named in describing a successful agreement. The United States, meanwhile, has made it clear that it cannot have binding targets and timetables, or else the agreement would be forced to go before the U.S. Senate for advice and consent. The United States, meanwhile, is working to water down that language from wording saying countries “shall ensure” that policies are put in place to underpin the targets to wording saying that countries will “pursue the development” of such policies. The conferees in Paris expect an agreement to reduce global temperatures by 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) over the next two decades.
There is tax money involved
Developing countries, such as Laos, Cambodia, Kiribati, and New Guinea say they need much more assistance than they are currently receiving. Back in 2009 wealthy countries such as the United States and the EU vowed to spend $100 billion annually in public and private dollars by 2020. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, wealthy countries are only about two-thirds of the way to that goal. Climate activists and the governments of developing countries scoff at those figures, contending that loans and private investment dollars should be counted as climate assistance. For the COP21 currently underway in France, developing countries say they want a “floor” of $100 billion in aid, rather than a ceiling of climate aid. And they want more in the future.
So far, the U.S. has balked at such demands. However, Todd Stern, State Department special envoy for climate change, said on November 24, “We don’t know yet is the answer.” But, Stern said, “we certainly see robust financing continuing.”
Countries such as the U.S. do pony up funds for the Green Climate Fund, which was launched by the United Nations but is governed by an independent board. The fund now has about $10 billion. Established in 1991, the GEF unites 183 countries in addressing climate change, biodiversity, and other environmentalist issues. The GEF has provided $12.5 billion in grants and $58 billion in co-financing for environmental projects.
The U.S. has pledged another $3 billion over four years, but congressional Republicans have vowed to block that money from being appropriated. “The Green Climate Fund is a priority for the president, and we have seen encouraging signs,” White House Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said on November 24. “We don’t want to get too far ahead of the negotiations as they move forward, but it is a clear priority for the president.” However, Republicans are challenging the administration’s assertions that the Paris deal can avoid Senate approval. They are also addressing the basis of the U.S. pledge in Paris—the EPA’s Clean Power Plan rule – which is aimed at cutting carbon emissions from existing power plants.
The Obama administration wants to see a deal that is “legally binding”—up to a point. Under the U.S. vision, countries would be obligated to submit to the United Nations proof that they have put in place measures to meet their climate targets and are making headway in doing so. But the targets themselves would not be binding. That is, the United States would not be beholden to any outside enforcement body if it fails to meet its goal of cutting emissions 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025, and China similarly would not face sanctions if it fails to peak emissions by 2030.
Delegates at the conference, and climate activists, are banking on Obama’s powers of persuasion in the U.S. According to The Scientific American, “We are trying to drag the administration as far as possible,” a European diplomat said recently. Europeans, he said, “love Barack Obama. They are not willing to make a crisis with the U.S., and they are not going to block at the end.”
See White House Twitter feed and video of Obama's speech: