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Obama warns of climate security risks as tough talks begin
[LE BOURGET] US President Barack Obama warned Tuesday global warming posed imminent security and economic risks, as negotiators embarked on an 11-day race to seal a UN pact aimed at taming climate change.
Speaking after attending a historic climate summit with some 150 other leaders, Obama voiced confidence mankind would make the tough decisions needed to halt rising temperatures.
But the president, and head of the world's second largest carbon emitter, also issued a grim warning for the near future if the temperature curve went unchecked.
"Before long we are going to have to devote more and more of our economic and military resources, not to growing opportunity for our people, but to adapting to the various consequences of a changing planet," Obama said.
"This is an economic and security imperative that we have to tackle now." The UN talks aim to seal a deal that would slash carbon emissions - which come mainly from burning fossil fuels - from 2020 and deliver hundreds of billions of dollars in aid for climate-vulnerable countries.
It is the latest chapter in a 25-year-old diplomatic saga marked by spats over burden-sharing and hobbled by a negotiation system of huge complexity.
Behind their vows of support, many leaders have often preferred the short-term benefits of burning cheap and dependable fossil fuels to power prosperity, ignoring the consequences of carbon pollution.
Obama said he believed the global political landscape was shifting, boding well for Paris and beyond.
"Climate change is a massive problem, it is a generational problem. And yet despite all that, the main message I have got is, I actually think we are going to solve this thing," he said.
At the heavily secured summit venue in Le Bourget on the northern outskirts of Paris, a city on edge since the November 13 terror attacks that killed 130 people, bureaucrats from 195 nations began a frantic negotiations.
They have until just Saturday to distill a 54-page text into a global warming blueprint, before handing it over to environment and foreign ministers for a final push to seal a deal by December 11.
"We are really up against the clock and up against the wall," Daniel Reifsnyder, one of the talks' co-chairs, told the negotiators on Tuesday morning.
A similar effort failed spectacularly in the 2009 annual UN talks in Copenhagen.
Many issues could derail the Paris talks, including poor nations' demands for billions of dollars in support from rich countries to help them reduce their emissions and adapt to the consequences of global warming.
Dozens of poor nations are calling for a target of 1.5 Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) warming above pre-Industrial Revolution levels, while bigger polluters such as the United States and China are backing a 2 C warming limit.
Disagreement over how to share responsibility for curbing emissions is one of the thorniest issues, and developing nations have accused richer countries of hypocrisy for demanding they cut their use of fossil fuels after carbon-burning their way to prosperity.
Nicaragua's lead negotiator Paul Oquist said Tuesday his country would not make any pledge to cut its emissions because that would let rich countries off the hook.
Adding to the debate, British charity Oxfam on Wednesday released a report saying the richest 10 percent of people produce half of Earth's climate-harming fossil-fuel emissions, while the poorest half contribute a mere 10 percent.
"Rich, high emitters should be held accountable for their emissions, no matter where they live," Oxfam climate policy head Tim Gore said in a statement.
The legal status of the accord, which must get unanimous backing, is another bone of contention.
On Tuesday US House Republicans blocked Obama's regulations on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, a move he will likely veto but which highlights the intense domestic opposition he is facing to committing the United States to any international framework.
The president said Tuesday he supported "legally binding" commitments for some areas within a planned Paris pact, though not the voluntary action plans submitted to the UN detailing how countries will cut their emissions.
"The process, the procedures, that ensures transparency and periodic reviews, that needs to be legally binding," Obama said.
Heaping on pressure, Climate Action Tracker Tuesday warned if planned new coal-fired plants come online, that would wreck the summit's hopes of curbing warming by 2 C.
"There is a solution to this issue of too many coal plants on the books: cancel them," said Pieter Van Breevoort of Ecofys, an energy research organisation, which is part of the Climate Action Tracker group.
"Renewable energy and stricter pollution standards are making coal plants obsolete around the world, and the earlier a coal plant is taken out of the planning process, the less it will cost."