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Hard questions about climate change

President Obama urged his fellow world leaders Monday to reach a landmark deal to curb global warming before it dooms the planet.
“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 doing something about it,” Obama said.
Speaking at the opening session of a United Nations conference attended by 196 nations, he said the old arguments for inaction on climate change had been broken.
“One of the enemies we will be fighting at this conference is cynicism. The notion we can’t do anything about climate change,” Obama said.
He said that the next few weeks could mark a turning point in efforts to limit global temperature rises, and “climate change could define the contours of this century more than any other (problem).”
The conference, which is scheduled to conclude Dec. 11, aims to reach an accord for reducing man-made greenhouse gases that cause global warming.
Amid extraordinarily tight security, 151 world leaders converged on the exhibition halls at Le Bourget Airport just outside the French capital.
Paris remained on edge in the wake of the coordinated terrorist attacks by Islamic State militants Nov. 13 in Paris that killed 130 people.
Opening the event Monday, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said negotiators had only days to finalize an agreement. He said that when the conference ends, he wants to be able to say “our mission is accomplished.”
U.N. climate chief Christina Figueres said in her opening remarks, “Never before has a responsibility so great been in the hands of so few. The world is looking to you.”
In his speech, Obama said he saw the effects of climate change firsthand in Alaska, “where the sea is already swallowing villages and eroding shorelines” and “where glaciers are melting at a pace unprecedented in modern times.”
He called his summer trip to Alaska a “preview of one possible future.”
The president said, “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 island nations, climate change is a threat to their very existence.”
David Waskow of the World Resources Institute, an environmental organization, said Obama’s speech clearly conveyed what’s at stake, particularly for the most vulnerable communities around the world.
“He underscored that the United States is fully committed to leading by example in the fight against climate change at home and here in Paris. His call for cooperation, not conflict, is one that will resonate around the world,” Waskow said.
Obama arrived in Paris late Sunday night and paid a surprise visit to the Bataclan theater, where 90 people were killed in last month’s terror attacks. He placed a white rose at a memorial at the scene.
In his address, he praised Paris for carrying on with the conference despite the attacks and said there was no greater rejection to those who wanted “to tear down the world.”
He held bilateral talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Obama emphasized the importance of Chinese-U.S. efforts to fight climate change. Those countries are the two biggest greenhouse gas producers.
“Nowhere has our coordination been more necessary and more fruitful,” he said.
China’s president, like Obama, used his speech to acknowledge that as the world’s largest emitter, China needed to support developing countries financially and technologically to combat global warming.
On the sidelines of the event, Obama  met with Russian President Vladimir Putin. They discussed the situation in Ukraine and the crisis in Syria. Obama expressed his regret over a  Russian fighter jet that was shot down by Turkey, a NATO member, that led to the deaths of two Russian military personnel.
Putin told the conference in his address, “We have demonstrated that we can have economic development and take care of the environment at the same time.”
French President François Hollande connected the fight against global warming to the fight against extremism.
“What is at stake with this climate conference is peace,” he said at the opening of the summit.
“The fight against terrorism and the fight against climate change are two major global challenges we must face,” he said.
The United Nations wants the conference to produce a legally binding accord that ensures the Earth’s temperature does not increase above 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) from preindustrial levels, but some developing countries most exposed to climate impacts such as extreme weather and rising sea levels want a more ambitious target of 1.5. degrees Celsius.
Some developing nations also say that developed nations responsible for the majority of historic greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming should have to do more to reach that target.
(CNN)World leaders opened pivotal climate talks Monday in Paris saying the stakes are too high to end the conference without achieving a binding agreement to help slow the pace of global climate change.
“A political moment like this may not come again,” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told leaders gathered for the conference. “We have never faced such a test. But neither have we encountered such great opportunity.”
The talks began with a moment of silence for victims of the November 13 terror attacks in Paris, and the tragedy served as a touchstone for world leaders urging unity and action.
“What greater rejection of those who would tear down our world than marshaling our best efforts to save it,” President Barack Obama said in his speech.
French President Francois Hollande noted that “never have the stakes been so high because this is about the future of the planet, the future of life.”
“And yet two weeks ago, here in Paris itself, a group of fanatics was sowing the seeds of death in the streets,” he said.
Legally binding agreement
Leaders of 150 nations, along with 40,000 delegates from 195 countries, are attending the conference, called COP21. COP stands for Conference of Parties, an annual forum to try to tackle climate change on a global political level.
The leaders have one mission: Agree on legally binding reductions in greenhouse gas emissions meant to hold global average temperatures short of a 2 degrees Celsius increase over preindustrial global temperatures.
Speaking aboard the papal plane on his way back to Rome, Pope Francis said that the time to do something was now or never.
“We are on the brink. We are on the brink of a suicide, to use a strong word, and I am sure that most of those at the COP have this conscience, and want to do something,” he said.
On Monday, the leaders of the main players necessary to achieve the ambitious goal — China and the United States — sat down together at the COP21. They are the largest producers of greenhouse gases.
Obama told the conference that the United States recognizes its role in creating climate change and its role in solving the issue.
But he said the agreement should be global in nature, assertive and flexible.
“Here in Paris, let’s secure an agreement that builds in ambition, where progress paves the way for regularly updated targets,” he said.
He also addressed economic issues associated with climate change, saying recent economic growth in the United States has come despite a lack of growth in carbon emissions, proving that climate advancements need not come at the expense of the economy or individual livelihoods.
“That’s what we seek in these next two weeks — not simply an agreement to roll back the pollution we put into the skies, but an agreement that helps us lift people from poverty without condemning the next generation to a planet that is beyond its capacity to repair,” he said.
He also said developed countries must help island nations and others that have contributed little to climate change but are the first to be feeling its effects.
Chinese President Xi Jinping said that the conference “is not a finish line, but a new starting point” and that any agreement must take into account the differences among nations.
“Countries should be allowed to seek their own solutions, according to their national interest,” he said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin called climate change “one of the greatest threats humanity is facing.”
“Russia not only prevented the increase of greenhouse emissions, it has reduced them,” he said, promising a 70% reduction in emissions from 1990 levels by 2030.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi called for a “comprehensive, equitable and durable agreement that leads us to restore balance between humanity and nature.”
And German Chancellor Angela Merkel reminded the leaders of the “billions of people pinning their hopes on what we do in Paris.”
“Let us do everything we can not to dash those hopes,” she said.
Terror, security, clashes
The conference is being held amid even more intense security than usual for such a gathering of global leaders following the terror attacks that left 130 people dead this month.
Authorities have clamped down on anti-global warming demonstrations in the city out of security concerns.
Nevertheless, disappointed demonstrators turned out Sunday, and brief clashes erupted with police at the Place de la Republique, where peaceful protesters had placed rows of shoes and name tags to represent the crowds not allowed to show up.
But violent protesters pelted officers with shoes and bottles. Police said that protesters even threw candles taken from memorials to those killed in the terror attacks, and that they arrested more than 200 people.
Paris police Chief Michel Cadot said taking the candles and using them against police showed “an extreme lack of respect to those events.”
Riot police responded with tear gas.
Hollande called the clashes “scandalous.” The French President said authorities knew “troubling elements” would arrive in Paris for the talks, and that is why “these sorts of assemblies were banned and some were ordered to stay home.”
In many countries, people gathered to protest against human-made climate change Sunday. There is a broad consensus among scientists that global warming is driven by human activity, foremost the burning of fossil fuels.
Previous failures
A look at previous global climate change negotiations illustrates the challenge in achieving this year’s goals, especially when it comes to the biggest greenhouse gas emitters.
Probably the best-known milestone to come out of a previous conference was the adoption of the Kyoto Protocol, a nonbinding agreement by 192 parties to lower greenhouse gas emissions to 5% below 1990 levels between 2008 and 2012.
The United States did not ratify the Kyoto Protocol and dropped out of it completely in 2001. Canada dumped it, too, and China, India and other developing countries were exempt from it.
It has taken 20 years of U.N. negotiations to reach this attempt at a legally binding global emissions agreement, according to conference organizers.

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