Obama, at Conference, Says U.S. Is Partly to Blame for Climate Change

PARIS — President Obama told world leaders who gathered northeast of Paris on Monday for a climate conference that the United States is at least partly to blame for the life-threatening damage that environmental change has wrought, and he urged world leaders to join him in fixing the problem.
“The United States not only recognizes our role in creating this problem, we embrace our responsibility to do something about it,” Mr. Obama said.
In a speech interrupted by repeated beeps warning that he had exceeded his time limit, Mr. Obama said in Le Bourget that the climate conference represented an important turning point in world history.
The greatest threat to reaching a binding climate accord may be a loose coalition of developing nations, led by India, who argue that they should not be asked to limit their economic growth as a way of fixing a problem that was largely created by the others, and Mr. Obama conceded that point.
“We know the truth that many nations have contributed little to climate change but will be the first to feel its worst effects,” he said.
President Obama, President François Hollande of France and Mayor Anne Hidalgo of Paris paid their respects on Sunday evening at the Bataclan, the concert hall in Paris where dozens of people were killed on Nov. 13. Credit Stephen Crowley/The New York Times
He promised money to help the poorest nations transition to economies that depend less on burning fossil fuels, but he said a delay was not acceptable.
“For I believe in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. there is such a thing as being too late,” Mr. Obama said.
Mr. Obama also repeated an argument, lampooned by some Republicans, that the climate conference was a fitting response to the terrorist attacks that cost the lives of 130 people in and around Paris on Nov. 13.
“What greater rejection of those who would tear down our world than marshaling our best efforts to save it,” he said.
About 150 world leaders were expected to gather at the opening of the talks in a heavily guarded convention center as a show of encouragement and support for efforts to forge a historic agreement to jointly curb greenhouse-gas emissions, in an effort to stave off the worst effects of climate change.
Mr. Obama has staked much of his legacy on ensuring success here, spending much of the past year courting the leaders of China, India and other major emitters in hopes they would finally agree to slow their rapidly rising use of coal and other carbon-intensive fuels.
President François Hollande of France greeted Mr. Obama just eight hours after the two paid a surprise late-night visit to the Bataclan, the concert hall where dozens of people were killed on Nov. 13, as part of a coordinated series of attacks in and around Paris.
At the brief visit last night, Mr. Obama, Mr. Hollande and Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris, each laid a white rose before standing in silence in front of the building for several minutes.
They stopped at the site immediately after Mr. Obama landed at Orly Airport and was driven through the quiet and largely blocked-off streets of Paris.
Mr. Obama, Mr. Hollande and their staffs have spent much of the last year making meticulous plans for the climate talks, but the attacks in Paris scrambled those plans. Now, the agenda for the two leaders has been expanded, with their coordinated war against the Islamic State taking much of their attention.
Mr. Hollande arrived at the climate talks at 7:46 a.m. and was greeted by Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, who was accompanied by Mr. Hollande’s former partner, the current minister of ecology, Ségolène Royal.
Mr. Hollande then went inside only to emerge moments later to stand at the doorway and give a highly choreographed series of quick handshakes to the world leaders expected to attend the conclave here.
Shortly after his arrival, Mr. Obama got together with President Xi Jinping of China in a meeting of the leaders of the world’s two largest carbon-polluting countries.
Citing climate change as “a huge challenge,” Mr. Xi said it was “very important for China and the United States to be firmly committed to the right direction of building a new model of major country relations,” including by “partnering with each other to help the climate conference deliver its expected targets.”
Sitting beside Mr. Xi at the end of a long table, Mr. Obama said in remarks made before a phalanx of reporters that the partnership between the two men on climate discussions — despite a host of differences on issues including cybersecurity and military presence in the South China Sea — had been an essential part of the lead-up to the global conference.
“As the two largest economies in the world and the two largest carbon-emitters, we have both determined that it is our responsibility to take action,” Mr. Obama said, adding: “And so our leadership on this issue has been absolutely vital, and I appreciate President Xi’s consistent cooperation on this issue.”
Among the first leaders to arrive was Secretary General Ban Ki-moon of the United Nations, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha of Thailand and the Sultan Qaboos bin Said al-Said of Oman.
Most of these leaders will depart Paris within days, leaving behind ministers who will negotiate an accord over the next two weeks that would for the first time commit almost every country to limiting its emissions.
So far, at least 170 countries have put forth emissions plans.
Besides the officials from all over the world, the event is expected to get a lift from prominent business leaders and philanthropists. Some of them are using the talks to announce substantial donations to help the cause of reducing emissions, developing alternative energy sources, conservation, and aiding poor and low-lying countries expected to be most affected by climate change.
The Breakthrough Energy Coalition, a group of business and philanthropy leaders led by the Microsoft founder Bill Gates who have a combined total of $350 billion in private wealth, have pledged to invest in moving clean-energy technologies from laboratories to the marketplace.
It is hoped that the pledge, along with one by 19 countries, including the United States, to double their investments in energy technologies to $20 billion by 2020 will help convince poor countries that they will be given significant help in transitioning to a new economic model that relies less on the use of carbon.
In one of many such expected announcements, the State Department pledged $248 million to help the world’s least-developed countries move toward a future that is less reliant on carbon, but there were already signs, however, that the world’s poor are not yet mollified.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India said on the opening day of the summit meeting that poor nations have the right to burn carbon to grow their economies.
“Justice demands that, with what little carbon we can still safely burn, developing countries are allowed to grow,” he wrote in a column published in The Financial Times. “The lifestyles of a few must not crowd out opportunities for the many still on the first steps of the development ladder.”
Citing statistics showing that carbon pollution last year was equal to the year before while economic growth continued, Mr. Obama rejected arguments that cleaning up the world’s air would be too costly or lead to poorer lifestyles.
“We have proved that strong economic growth and a safer environment no longer have to conflict with one another,” he said.
Mr. Modi was elected last year on a platform of improving the country’s economic standing. India is in the midst of a coal rush, with plans to double the use of coal by 2019.
In October, Mr. Modi unveiled a climate plan highlighted by a rapid increase in the use of solar, hydropower and wind energy. India’s carbon emissions would continue to rise — tripling from 2005 levels by 2030 — but at a slower pace than usual.
In exchange, India was demanding free technology from other countries as well as significant financial aid. India has some incentives to cooperate with broader plans to curb emissions. Some studies suggest that more Indians could be displaced as a result of rising seas than those from any other country, cities in India are already among the world’s most polluted, and nearly a fifth of deaths in India are caused in part by air pollution.
Republicans in Congress and those vying to become the next president have vowed to block or overturn much of Mr. Obama’s efforts here. The president is hoping that the international pact will have a life of its own that will outlive any future leader, although fervent opposition in the Senate means that any agreement here will not be a formal treaty, which would need approval from lawmakers.

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