President Barack Obama said during Monday’s opening of the Paris Climate Talks that the annual conference this year is an “act of defiance” against terrorism, and emphasized that cynicism is one of the greatest barriers to helping the environment. He acknowledged that as the world’s second biggest emitter of CO2, the United States has played a role as a perpetuator of climate change and is ready to do what is necessary to combat that.
Obama’s one of 150 leaders from 195 countries gathering over the next two weeks in Paris with the goal of coming to a legally binding agreement on how to combat climate change, specifically, one that will ensure a goal of net zero emissions in the second half of this century.
In a nod to the Bill Gates’ recent multi-billion-dollar clean energy initiative, which was announced alongside the UN events on Monday, Obama said that the private sector must be incorporated into the conversation on how to curb global warming.
Gates’ Breakthrough Energy Coalition includes more than two dozen public and private entities and will focus on creating renewable energy technology.
The deadly attacks that occurred in Paris two weeks ago continued to loom over the opening day statements. In her address, German chancellor Angela Merkel said that the presence of the world leaders in Paris was a demonstration that they “are stronger than the terrorists.”
Near the start of the day’s events French President François Hollande said that the presence of United Nations’ dignitaries has given his country great hope.
“I’m not choosing between the fight against terrorism and the fight against global warming,” said Hollande. “These are two major challenges we must overcome.”
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi also announced a “game changer” of a coalition on Monday — an international solar alliance of 120 countries. Called the International Agency for Solar Technologies and Applications, the goal of the franchise is to spread cheap solar technology to remote and rural areas around the world. The Indian government has pledged $90 million to set up the alliance headquarters in India, and hopes to raise $400 million more.
Some of the most passionate speakers at today’s events were representatives from the island nations that are at the forefront of experiencing climate change repercussions. The prime minister of the Bahamas, Perry Christie, warned that climate change “threatens the very existence of the Bahamas as we know it,” while Anote Tong, president of the low-lying Pacific island state of Kiribati, argued that whatever agreement is reached must be legally binding. He also said that Fiji has agreed it would accommodate the people of Kiribati if climate change “renders our homes uninhabitable,” seemingly the first announcement of this offer.
Leading up to the first series of talks on Monday, rallies calling for action erupted throughout the world. One of the most poignant displays occurred in the Place de la République in Paris, where a previously planned march for climate change was cancelled due to security concerns. Instead, over 10,000 pairs of shoes — including those of Pope Francis and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon — were left in the plaza as emblems of a commitment to the environment.
While today’s events primarily consisted of foreign leaders stating what they believe should be done, the rest of the week will be spent actually working toward those goals. The stakes, many believe, have never been higher.
“The eyes of millions of people are on you, not just figuratively but literally,” said UN climate chief Christiana Figueres at the start of the conference. “Never before has a responsibility so great been in the hands of so few.”