PARIS – World leaders launched a whirlwind day of talks in the French capital Monday aimed at forging an elusive agreement to stave off calamitous global warming.
Governments — including Japan — and business leaders banking on clean energy technology to fight global warming, were set to pledge tens of billions of dollars for research and development.
The summit kicked off nearly a fortnight of talks intended to end two decades of international bickering with a pact that would limit emissions of the greenhouse gases blamed for climate change.
About 150 world leaders, including from Japan, the United States, China, India and Russia, converged in a northern Paris venue bristling with security following this month’s terrorist attacks in the French capital.
Scientists warn that, unless action is taken soon, mankind will endure ever-worsening catastrophic events, such as droughts that will lead to conflict and rising sea levels that will wipe out low-lying island nations.
A U.S.-led group of 20 countries was to announce the project Monday to double the amount of investment in green technologies — including those for wind and solar-power generation — over five years, according to the White House.
U.S. President Barack Obama, French President Francois Hollande and leaders of other participating countries were to kick off the project, which also involves such major emitters as Japan, China and India, at the opening of the U.N. climate change summit in a Paris suburb.
“Each participating country will seek to double its governmental and/or state-directed clean energy research and development investment over five years,” the 20 countries said in a joint statement.
“While important progress has been made in cost reduction and deployment of clean energy technologies, the pace of innovation and the scale of transformation and dissemination remains significantly short of what is needed,” the 20 countries said.
The other members of the project are Australia, Brazil, Britain, Canada, Chile, Denmark, Germany, Indonesia, Italy, Mexico, Norway, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Sweden and the United Arab Emirates.
To help fund initial programs under the Mission Innovation project, a total of 28 influential investors from 10 countries formed the Breakthrough Energy Coalition, which includes Microsoft Corp. founder Bill Gates and Facebook Inc. founder Mark Zuckerberg.
The private-sector investors said in a statement that current governmental funding levels for clean energy “are simply insufficient to meet the challenges before us.”
“We must also add the skills and resources of leading investors with experience in driving innovation from the lab to the marketplace,” they said in a joint action that can help prove the feasibility of developed countries’ commitment to providing $100 billion for developing nations per year by 2020 in fight against global warming.
Negotiators have also vowed to forge an ambitious deal to honor the 130 people killed in the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks that were claimed by the Islamic State group.
“The fate of humanity is at stake in this conference. After the attacks in France, we have to deal with the urgent priorities and respond to the terrorist challenge but also act for the long term,” French President Francois Hollande said.
In an interview with French daily newspaper 20 minutes, Hollande said leaders would meet in Paris “to reaffirm their solidarity with France” and to “assume their responsibilities in the face of the warming of the planet.
“History will judge the heads of state and government harshly if, in December 2015, they miss this opportunity.”
Hollande arrived at the venue early Monday to welcome the leaders, first meeting with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
The Paris attacks appeared to have galvanized many world leaders in their determination to stand up to terrorism and push on with the climate struggle.
Leaders such as U.S. President Barack Obama, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe were scheduled to give remarks that could provide political impetus to the talks, while showing their resolute stance against terrorism.
In his remarks, Abe is expected to announce that Japan will extend ¥1.3 trillion ($10.6 billion) in 2020 to assist developing countries’ efforts to fight global warming, up from the roughly ¥1 trillion Tokyo now provides each year.
Obama’s first act after touching down in Paris early Monday was to visit the scene of the worst carnage at the Bataclan concert venue.
The summit is “an opportunity to stand in solidarity with our oldest ally … and reaffirm our commitment to protect our people and our way of life from terrorist threats,” Obama said in a Facebook post before flying to Paris.
The United Nations has hosted annual summits to tackle the vexing global warming issue since 1995, but all previous efforts have foundered, primarily due to deep divisions between rich and poor nations.
Many poor nations insist rich countries bear the most responsibility for tackling the problem because they have burned the most fossil fuels since the Industrial Revolution on their way to prosperity.
But the United States and other developed nations insist more must be done by China, India and other emerging countries, which are burning increasing amounts of coal to power their fast-growing economies.
Potential stumbling blocks in Paris range from providing finance for climate vulnerable and poor countries, to scrutiny of commitments to curb greenhouse gases and even the legal status of any accord.
Still, important progress has been made ahead of the meeting. One of the key successes has been a process in which 183 nations have submitted voluntary action plans on how they would tackle global warming.
U.N. climate chief Christiana Figueres said these provide the architecture for more ambitious efforts that could eventually limit global warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) from pre-Industrial Revolution levels.
Scientists say the 2C limit is the threshold at which the worst impacts of global warming will be unavoidable.
To pressure world leaders into forging an agreement, more than half a million people participated in climate protests around the world over the weekend.
Placards reading, “There is no planet B” and “Our Children Need a Future” were held by some of the 50,000 people who turned out in London’s Hyde Park, in scenes replicated across the globe.
“The charge from the streets for leaders to act on climate has been deafening, with record numbers turning out across the world,” said Emma Ruby-Sachs, campaign director for Avaaz, one of the organizers.
French authorities had banned protests in Paris due to security fears following the terrorist attacks.
But in a show of defiance and determination to have their voices heard on climate change, thousands of people in Paris gathered to create a 2-km (1.2-mile) human chain.
Their stand was disrupted, however, when a band of anti-capitalist militants infiltrated the protests, leading to clashes with riot police that saw hundreds of arrests. Some 317 people were in custody, police sources said Monday.
On a more artistic precursor to the talks, the Eiffel Tower was turned green Sunday as part of an art project that will see “virtual trees” grow on the landmark to support reforestation.