AS IT HAPPENED: World leaders pledge climate action at COP21

On day one of UN summit in Paris, 150 world leaders show support for a global warming pact

An exhibition of flags outside the COP21 entrance (Pic: Megan Darby)

An exhibition of flags outside the COP21 entrance (Pic: Megan Darby)

Updates from Megan Darby and Ed King in Paris – all times CET


  • 150 presidents and prime ministers attending
  • Conflict and terrorism major themes
  • $248m adaptation finance pledged for world’s poorest
  • India launches solar alliance, defends coal use
  • Vulnerable countries call for 1.5C warming limit
  • Billionaires pledge massive clean energy research funds

1930 – As the national statements run into overtime, we’re going to wrap up. Terrorism and conflict emerged as key themes, with leaders determined to get a climate deal that promotes peace.

After all the high rhetoric and raft of minilateral announcements, tomorrow the real work starts. Negotiators must translate lofty ideals into a workable text that 195 countries can agree on.

Major tensions remain. Emerging economies like India demand the right to grow, pushing back against demands for a long-term carbon-cutting goal and ratcheting up of ambition. The most vulnerable states are desperate for a tougher temperature limit, which major emitters are highly unlikely to agree to. Significant cash flows from rich to poor will be essential to lubricate a deal.

US president Barack Obama is set to meet leaders of small islands threatened by rising seas, to discuss their calls for support to relocate to safer ground.

For all the action, keep reading and follow @climatehome and the team @edking_ch, @climatemegan and @a_pashley on twitter.

1912 – Fresh from launching his solar alliance – and we’ll have more on that from Avik Roy later – India PM Narendra Modi is speaking at the podium.

“Democratic India must grow rapidly to meet the aspirations of 1.2 billion people,” says Modi, involving a ramping up of all forms of energy. That means coal.

Developed countries must slash their emissions first, he argues, in light of their historic responsibility. “Climate justice demands that with the limited carbon space we still have, developing countries will have enough room to grow.”

A key ask is access to intellectual property rights for clean technology, to allow a faster transition to low carbon sources.

He also calls for a strong agreement on adapting to climate impacts and addressing the loss and damage caused by global warming.

“We have a chance to unite behind a common purpose. We will succeed if we have the courage and commitment to craft a genuine partnership.”

1843 – David Cameron is on his way to replace the UK’s two former colonies as climate pariah, after his government slashed nearly all its low carbon policies.

But he is emphatic in his pitch for a strong Paris deal, arguing for five-year reviews and technology sharing to ramp up ambition.

“Instead of making excuses tomorrow, to our children and grandchildren, we should be taking action today,” he says.

1811 – Two former climate laggards that have had recent changes of leader, Canada and Australia, are on in parallel sessions.

Justin Trudeau, who replaced Stephen Harper as PM, promises more collaboration with provincial premiers on carbon pricing. After its spell in the doghouse, he declares: “Canada is back!”

Australia’s Malcolm Turnbull announces $1 bn of climate finance over the next five years, to come out of the overseas aid budget. He also agrees to ratify the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, which covers action before 2020 – a largely symbolic gesture.

Known to be more concerned about climate change than predecessor Tony Abbott, Turnbull has yet to substantively change the country’s coal-friendly policies.

1757 – While India grapples with its energy dilemma, the Climate Vulnerable Forum, an alliance of 43 countries exposed to extreme weather and sea level rise, is renewing calls for a 1.5C warming limit.

Scientists say that target is still technically within reach, although it would require deep emissions cuts and controversial carbon-sucking technology.

For low-lying small island states, the currently agreed 2C threshold threatens their very existence. Others like the Philippines, Bangladesh and Costa Rica, fear impacts like flooding and intense storms will set back their development.

Former Ireland president and UN envoy Mary Robinson was at the meeting to show her support.

1733 – India’s prime minister Narendra Modi is about to launch his heavily trailed solar alliance, alongside France’s Francois Hollande.

Around 100 countries are expected to sign up and collaborate on clean energy technology.

In an exclusive for Climate Home, reporter Avik Roy explores the other plank of India’s energy strategy: a ramping up of coal power.

Energy minister Piyush Goyal told journalists: “We cannot do renewable without coal.”

Prime minister Narendra Modi opens the India pavilion at COP21 (Pic: Avik Roy)

Prime minister Narendra Modi opens the India pavilion at COP21 (Pic: Avik Roy)

1610 – Nigeria president Muhammadu Buhari alludes to the ongoing terror threat from Boko Haram in the north of his country, warning European leaders that a heating Sahara could send more militants towards the Mediterranean.

His argument is echoed by Paul Biya, president of Cameroon and Chad president Idriss Déby Itno, who follows him onto the podium.

1556 – Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbass cites continued Israeli occupation and “violation of international law” as one of the main challenges facing Palestine in its quest to tackle climate change.

“Palestine is still living under Israeli occupation… we cannot continue with the implementation of agreements alone,” he says, suggesting that if the international community cannot help enforce a settlement between Palestine and Israel the government will struggle to roll out other green policies.

1540 – Bilateral talks between countries – one of the most important part of today’s leader’s meet – are ongoing. Here’s a spectacular shot of Obama and Putin meeting in the corridor. Feel the warmth.

1450 – Xi Jinping has been speaking ahead of his bilateral meeting with president Barack Obama – here’s a snippet of a longer set of remarks.

“Terrorism is on the rise and climate change is a huge challenge. There is more instability and uncertainty in the international situation.

“Against this backdrop, it’s 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 and follow the principle of non-confrontation and non-conflict, mutual respect, and win-win cooperation, and carry forward our practical exchanges and cooperation at the bilateral, regional and global levels, which will include enhancing macroeconomic policy coordination, working together to combat all forms of terrorism, and partnering with each other to help the climate conference deliver its expected targets.”

1440 – US climate activists say they’re quietly pleased with the tone and content of President Barack Obama’s speech.

“What I thought he did well was mention Alaska and frame this as a shared challenge,” said David Waskow from the World Resources Institute. May Boeve, from the 350 campaign group was even more enthused: “We saw a president who is clearly serious about climate change,” she said.

Alden Meyer from the US Union of Concerned Scientists added: “I’ve been to 20 of the 21 COPs and I don’t think I’ve seen this level of momentum before… President Obama gets it at a very deep level. It’s virtually certain there will be an agreement next week but how effective that is is unclear. It’s all to play for. My gut tells me within the next 4-5 years even the Republican party will support action.”

1354 – A couple more speeches to note before the lunch break, plus reaction starting to come in.

Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff calls for a legally binding deal with a 5 year review mechanism is needed. She talked up the South American state’s plans to boost renewables, end illegal deforestation and restore 27 million hectares of degraded land.

She says: “We’re evolving towards the progressive decarbonisation of our country. We are talking about deep and sweeping changes.”

Bolivia’s Evo Morales says capitalism is destroying human co-existence. “We cannot remain accomplices of what is being done against nature”, he says.

“Capitalism has fostered, introduced and driven forward the most savage and destructive formula against out species. We have come to this summit to say what we the peoples feel. If we did not say what was the cause of global warming it would be treason against Mother Earth.”

Harjeet Singh, Action Aid

“Leaders have now thrown themselves a gauntlet to address the current and devastating impact of climate change over the next two weeks.  The same rich countries speaking up for the world’s most vulnerable now urgently need to match their words with action – and what they have put on the table so far is not anywhere near their fair share of climate action.”

Jennifer Morgan, World Resources Institute

“President Xi’s showed his resolve to address climate change and reach a strong agreement, with all countries taking action. His comments show that China is ready to step into a pivotal role in reaching common ground on key issues here in Paris.”

David Waskow, World Resources Institute

“Today President Obama clearly conveyed that he understands what’s at stake, especially for the most vulnerable communities around the world. He underscored that the United States is fully committed to leading by example in the fight against climate change at home and here in Paris. His call for cooperation not conflict is one that will resonate around the world.”

1346 – Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, says his country has reduced the energy intensity of its economy by a third this century.

One of the first countries to submit its climate pledge, Russia has been criticised for weak ambition, relying on its vast forests as carbon sinks.

But Putin talked up its contribution and called for a deal to replace the Kyoto Protocol.

Analysis: Ahead of Paris, Russia becomes a climate policy wallflower

1340 – German chancellor Angela Merkel reminds delegates national pledges do not deliver deep enough carbon cuts to hold warming to 2C, the agreed danger threshold. Vulnerable countries want a tighter 1.5C limit. She calls for five-yearly reviews to ramp up ambition.

In the other room, South Africa’s Jacob Zuma says he wants to see finance, adaptation and loss and damage at the core of a new deal.

“We want a global goal for adaptation… loss and damage must also be reflected in the agreement. We urge developed countries to take lead and honour existing commitments. Climate finance must be scaled beyond the $100 billion for the post 2020. It is not aid or ODA, it is a legal obligation to support all developing countries under the UN convention.”

Ecuador’s president Rafael Correa Delgado repeated his call for an “international court of environmental justice” – unlikely to be a move that wins much support here. “It is not understandable we have courts for financial debts but we don’t have courts for environmental debts.” he says. Conservation will only happen in poor countries if there’s a rise in living standards, he adds.

1333 – We’ve had a few forest announcements drop in over the past hour, involving Germany, Norway, Colombia, the UK and Brazil. Highlights as follows:

  • Germany, Norway and the United Kingdom will contribute close to US$300 million through results-based payments for reduced deforestation in Colombia.
  • Brazil and Norway agree they will extend their climate and forest partnership until 2020. Norway has given $1 billion to Brazil’s Amazon fund since 2008.

Germany, Norway and the UK released this statement:

“We announce today that we stand ready to increase our annual support for REDD+ if countries come forward with ambitious and high quality proposals, with an aim to provide $1 billion per year by 2020, or to provide over $5 billion in the period 2015-2020, including a significant increase in pay-for- performance finance if countries demonstrate measured, reported and verified emission reductions.”

Zero Amazon deforestation by 2025 is possible with political will, say experts (Pic: David Evers/Flickr)

Amazon rainforest (Pic: David Evers/Flickr)

1328 – Zimbabwe’s president Robert Mugabe has delivered a withering assessment of efforts from richer nations in offering climate support.

“Today we face grave danger as extreme phenomena as foods, droughts and heatwaves become the norm… unleashing hunger, disease and displacement, destruction and death. Unless current trends are reversed… disaster stalks planet Earth.

“Developed countries are being miserly in providing for means of implementing the convention – but burden us for cleaning up the mess they have created.

“Their record to date in living up to commitments has been well below expectations… confidence between and among us – a key ingredient – has been eroded as a result. Developed countries must assume their leading role in combatting climate change.

‘We cannot and we will not assume more obligations.”

1326 – Many leaders have hailed the more than 180 countries that submitted national plans towards a climate deal, but there are a few hold-outs.

Alex Pashley has been interviewing Nicaragua’s chief envoy Paul Oquist, who says his country will not enter a pledge. Venezuela is unlikely to release a plan either, he says, saying they refuse to back a deal which puts the world on course for 4C.

1322 – Now for the biggest emitter, China. President Xi says the Paris agreement should focus on strengthening post-2020 actions on climate change.

The deal should chart a course for green development, galvanise global efforts and encourage broad participation, he says. That includes for businesses as well as governments.

Developed countries must keep their promise to mobilise US$100bn of support for developing countries a year by 2020.

“We should create a future of win-win cooperation,” Xi says, rejecting the idea climate talks are a zero-sum game.

China pledges to peak its carbon dioxide emissions by 2030 and raise the share of non-fossil fuels in the energy mix to 20% by 2030.

President Xi fleshes out plans for its $3 billion contribution to a south-south climate fund, including 10 low carbon industrial parks.

1310 – Representing the world’s largest economy and second biggest emitter, President Obama is up.

He offers condolences to the French people for the “barbaric attacks” on Paris earlier this month.

“Nothing will deter us from building the future we want for our children. What greater rejection to those who would tear down our world than marshalling our efforts to save it?”

The 15 warmest years on record occurred since 2000, Obama notes, citing the impacts he saw on a visit to Alaska earlier this year. “No nation, large or small, wealthy or poor, is immune to what this means.”


America not only recognises its responsibility for causing the problem, but is embracing the opportunity to do something about it, he says. That doesn’t mean choosing between economic growth and environmental protection.

“Last year the global economy grew while carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels stayed flat. What this means cannot be overstated.”

Progress on clean energy, curbing potent-warming HFC gases and more than 180 countries submitting climate plans “should give us hope,” says Obama. “One of the enemies we will be fighting at this conference is cynicism.”

He calls for regularly updates to national targets, monitoring of progress and support for poorer countries to meet climate goals.

The reward will be to make the next generation better off, he concludes. “Let’s get to work.”

1241 – Morocco’s King Mohammed VI has lost his voice, apparently, so someone else is delivering his speech. The country will host next year’s COP in Marrakech. Yes, they have another UN summit lined up already.

In its national plan, Morocco promised to slash fossil fuel subsidies. It’s also opening one of the world’s biggest solar thermal plants in the desert next month.

The sky over Marrakech (Flickr/ Elvin)

The sky over Marrakech (Flickr/ Elvin)

1231 – Paraguay is kicking off the national statements. Presidents Barack Obama and Xi Jinping, representing the world’s two biggest emitters, are third and fifth on the bill.

1222 – Before they begin, let’s cast back to British heir to the throne Prince Charles’s speech in the opening session. In a passionate address the prince said it was “absurd” that a problem with known solutions was still running riot.

“In damaging our climate we become the architects of our own destruction. While the planet can survive the scorching of the earth and the rising of the waters, the human race cannot. The absurd thing is that we know exactly what needs to be done; we know we cannot adapt sufficiently to go on as we are, nor can we build ourselves a new atmosphere. To avoid catastrophe we must restrict climate change to less than two degrees, which requires a dramatic reduction in carbon emissions.

“This can be done. We have the knowledge, the tools and the money – only 1.7% per cent of global annual consumption would be required to put us on the right low carbon path for 2030. We lack only the will and the framework to use them wisely, consistently and at the required global scale. Governments collectively spend more than a trillion dollars every year on subsidies to energy, agriculture and fisheries. Just imagine what could be done if those vast sums supported sustainable energy, farming and fishing, rather than fossil fuels, deforestation and over-exploitation of the seas.”

1218 – The family photo is done. Here’s one segment of the power line-up, featuring Ban Ki-moon, Francois Hollande and Xi Jinping.

National statements begin soon, in two parallel sessions. Peru kicks off in one room and Paraguay another.

family photo

1202 – A briefing from the Climate Action Network of NGOs has just finished. Ed King offers a flavour of what was discussed.

Keya Chatterjee, executive director of USCAN
“Things are incredibly different this time round [compared to Copenhagen in 2009]. We have support from people of the world… from all walks of life. But we need political leadership – and the credibility of Barack Obama’s leadership is on the line here.”

Mohamed Adow, Christian Aid
“We want the voices of the most climate vulnerable to be heard. The deal on the table will not be enough for them… they are like a lizard’s tail and at risk of being sacrificed. The rich world can provide them some comfort.”

Tim Gore, Oxfam
“Don’t think this will be a walk in the park. These are brutal negotiations and it is going to get nasty. Targets will not be a legally binding as they were under the Kyoto Protocol…. but it will be citizens who will hold governments to account. It’s pressure below rather than above that will make the difference.”

1200 – A little behind schedule, heads of state are now assembling for a “family photo”, before they each get the chance to make a 3-minute speech.

Russia Today has just reported Presidents Putin and Erdogan will no longer be meeting at this summit. They had been due to discuss the recent shooting down of a Russian plane over Turkish airspace.

1155 – Introducing our new reporter Avik Roy, who will be following India’s moves at the COP21 talks closely this fortnight. Yesterday he met with Indian environment minister Prakash Javadekar, and coal and energy minister Piyush Goyal.

Both the ministers seemed excited about India’s role in the climate talks. Goyal talked about everything from ramping up coal to India’s ambitious renewable energy. When asked if he expects any pushback on India’s coal plan from the developed countries, he said “developed countries also understand that India needs a base load for its ambitious power plans and economic growth plans. In any case, if we don’t have a base load we don’t have any renewable energy. It is integral element of India’s development imperative. We don’t have gas so obviously the base load will have to be coal to provide 24/7 power.”

While India is rapidly expanding its renewable energy capacity, it is also engaged in developing clean coal technology research, encouraging ultra-supercritical power plants. When journalists present asked the minister if India’s obsession towards coal goes against its pledge for walking clean on energy, Goyal said: “We cannot do renewable without coal.”

Today, as the heads of states of 150 countries speak at the opening of the conference, Modi will unveil a solar partnership along with French President Francois Hollande, leading a group of over hundred countries for a radical solar energy plan. According to Goyal, it will be a platform for engagement, a platform to encourage and promote solar energy and achieve the sustainable development goal of affordable energy access for all by 2030.

1141 – Now it’s UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon’s turn. He has four criteria for success. A deal must be:

  • Lasting, with a long term goal to send a signal to the markets
  • Dynamic, so it doesn’t need to be renegotiated
  • Fair, recognising the differences between developed and developing countries
  • Credible, with a transparent framework for reporting progress

“We cannot afford indecision, half measures or merely incremental changes,” he says. “A transformation has already begun.”

1130 – President Hollande takes the floor.

“Never have the stakes of an international meeting been so high, since what is at stake is the future of the planet, the future of life,” he says.

Thanking partners for their shows of solidarity since the 13 November Paris attacks, he says: “Tragic events represent an affliction, but also an obligation. They force us to focus on what is important. Your presence brings an immense hope, which we have no right to disappoint…

“I am not choosing between fighting terrorism and fighting global warming. These are both challenges we have to overcome.”

Describing the risks of “mass exodus” and conflict over water scarcity, he adds: “Essentially, what is at stake at this climate conference is peace.”

Nearly all countries have submitted climate plans towards a global pact, he notes. But “declarations of intent will not be enough.”

There must be a long term goal and review system for holding warming to 2C and support for developing countries, he says.

“The greatest danger is not that we aim too high and miss. The greatest danger is that we aim too low and hit it.”

1112 – Ed King has been looking into the security arrangements for this summit:

Inside the Le Bourget calm prevails, but outside the conference centre the area has been locked down, with hundreds of police closing roads, snipers deployed on roofs and helicopters hovering overhead.

If the 13 November terror attacks were not reminder enough of the risks this conference poses, Sunday’s riot in the middle of a climate demo will have ensured the police stay vigilant here at all times.

Many of the 150+ world leaders have already arrived for a marathon of speeches that kicks off at 12. President Francois Hollande is greeting them one-by-one at the main entrance, although some – like Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe – appeared a little confused.

1109 – Here’s a run-down of some of the initiatives due to be announced today:

  • Mission Innovation – a multi-billion dollar push for clean energy research and development
  • Solar power alliance – Narendra Modi’s baby, a collaboration between India and sun-rich states
  • Communique on phasing out fossil fuel subsidies – led by New Zealand’s John Key
  • A coalition for carbon pricing, including Chile, Germany and Mexico
  • Call for a 1.5C warming limit from vulnerable countries, led by Philippines’ Benigno Aquino III
  • World Bank $500m initiative to help poor countries harness market forces to cut emissions

1048 – Meanwhile, students are going on “climate strike”. Young activists are meeting at a side conference in Paris.

“Climate strike is a wake-up call to our own generation. And it is the start of a network that will solve the greatest challenge in human history. Together. We need your hands and hearts and smarts!” – Paulina, 21, from Mexico

They are asking for fossil fuels to be left in the ground, a transition to 100% clean energy and support for climate refugees.

“We are calling students from all parts of the world to stand in solidarity and to take action in the fight for the future we deserve” – Sagar, 20, from Nepal

1042 – The UN’s Christiana Figueres and Prince Charles of the UK set the scene.

Figueres says: “Never has a responsibility so great has been in the hands of so few. The world is looking at you, the world is counting on you.”

Prince Charles emphasises the need to protect the vulnerable. “Climate change magnifies every existing tension” in the world today, including migration and conflict. “Think of the billions without a voice.”

1029 – Laurent Fabius, France’s foreign minister, has been officially elected as president of COP21. It’s his job to smooth the path to a deal, without being seen to determine its form.

“We have no hidden agenda and no secrets, and no text in our pockets,” he assures delegates. But he stresses the need for ambition: “The stakes are far too high” for a minimalist agreement.

He wants negotiators to produce a final draft text by this Saturday, ready for ministers to thrash out the remaining political issues next week.

On the evening of the 11 December, Fabius wants to tell the world: “Our mission is accomplished.”

1002 – Rich governments will promise US$248 million in the next few years to help the world’s poorest countries adapt to the impacts of climate change.

Funds for flood defences and drought-resistant seeds have proved elusive, as investors prefer higher-yielding clean energy projects, for example. But for those already hit by erratic rainfall and sea level rise, they are essential to a climate deal.

The International Institute for Environment and Development estimates the 48 least developed countries will need an extra $1 trn to meet their climate goals next decade.

0950 – Presidents of the world’s two highest emitting countries, US and China, have entered the building – well, tent. Barack Obama and Xi Jinping have boosted the UN process with a series of bilateral commitments to curb their greenhouse gases.

As well as David Cameron, the UK is fielding Prince Charles, who takes a personal interest in climate change and forest protection.

Formalities start at 10, followed by the opening ceremony at 11. Expect poetry, music and probably children, to give the proceedings some emotional impetus.

Then each head of state gets three minutes to set out their stall, in two parallel sessions. They can talk up their domestic policies, declare collaborations with other countries and outline their asks for a global deal.

0930 – Good morning and welcome to the Climate Home liveblog from COP21 in Paris. I’m Megan Darby.

Delegates are arriving by shuttle bus at Le Bourget, the airport site where two weeks of intensive negotiation over an international climate change deal will take place.

UN chief Ban Ki-Moon and top climate diplomat Christiana Figueres are welcoming world leaders, alongside France president Francois Holland and ministers Laurent Fabius and Segolene Royal. They have 150 hands to shake.

Today is a chance for heads of state to show their support for a pact, announcing national and minilateral initiatives to help green the economy and shield people from the impacts of global warming.

Many will also take the opportunity for non-climate-related meetings, with Vladimir Putin and Recep Erdogan to discuss the recent downing of a Russian plane over Turkish airspace, for example.

The welcoming party

The welcoming party

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