World leaders vowed on Monday to save mankind from catastrophic climate change as a historic summit opened with the “hope of all humanity” laid on their shoulders.
The heads of more than 150 nations — a record — kicked off 12 days of talks in search of an elusive pact that would shift the world economy away from its heavy use of fossil fuels blamed for global warming.
“Never have the stakes of an international meeting been so high, because it concerns the future of the planet, the future of life,” French president Francois Hollande said.
“The hope of all of humanity rests on all of your shoulders.”
Scientists warn that without urgent action to curb greenhouse gases, mankind will suffer worsening droughts, floods, storms and rising seas, threatening millions with hunger, disease and migration. Low-lying island nations would face oblivion.
Monday’s event was the largest single-day gathering of heads of state or government in history, the United Nations said, highlighting widespread global commitment to the climate fight.
Many leaders also vowed to forge an ambitious deal in honour of the 130 people killed in the November 13 attacks in Paris, claimed by ISIL.
The leaders began their talks with a minute of silence to remember the dead.
US president Barack Obama pledged American commitment and urging others to do the same.
“The United States of America not only recognises our role in creating this problem but embraces its responsibility to do something about it,” Mr Obama said, as he warned “the hour” of being too late was near.
Mr Obama had earlier met with Chinese president Xi Jinping, bringing together the leaders of the two biggest carbon emitters, to highlight a partnership on climate they began to forge last year.
In his speech, Mr Xi reasserted China’s pledge for its carbon emissions to peak by 2030.
But he also insisted rich nations shoulder comparatively more of the responsibility in curbing global warming.
“Addressing climate change should not deny the legitimate needs of developing countries to reduce poverty and improve their people’s living standards,” Mr Xi said.
He demanded rich nations honour their commitment, dating back to 2009, to mobilise $100 billion a year by to tackle climate change in poorer countries.
The United Nations has hosted annual conferences to address global warming since 1995, but its efforts have stumbled on divisions between rich and poor.
Many poor nations insist rich countries bear the most responsibility for tackling the problem because they have burnt the most fossil fuels since the Industrial Revolution on their way to prosperity.
But the United States and other developed nations argue more must be done by China, India and other emerging giants, which are voraciously burning coal to power their fast-growing economies.
Scrutiny of commitments to curb greenhouse gases and the legal status of the accord are other expected negotiating battlegrounds.
Still, important progress has been made in the run-up to Paris, including a roster of voluntary pledges by 183 nations to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, and other pro-climate measures.