COP21 labelled ‘a turning point’ for the planet

World leaders have spoken of the urgent need to act against climate change and find lasting solutions.

Conference attendees sit in a conference room on the opening day of the COP 21 United Nations conference on climate change. Picture: AFP.

JOHANNESBURG - World leaders attending COP21 have labelled the conference a 'turning point' for the planet while scientists warn that not enough is being down to stop global warming.

US President Barack Obama, UN Secretary Ban Ki-moon and French President Francois Hollande have all emphasised the importance of government's taking responsibility for climate change before it's too late.

Hollande says companies are now prepared to change their behaviour.

"We still need to send them essential signals… that is the stake of the price of carbon so that greenhouse gases have a cost that corresponds with the damage inflicted upon the planet."

CNN's John Sutter reported that, "The one chance the world has right now for everyone to focus on this issue that is so long-term, that is so in the future that it's very easy to ignore. So I think the fact that you have all these world leaders in one place talking about this is a really unique opportunity."

At the same time, pollution monitors have issued an alert for Beijing after recording extremely high levels of pollution in parts of the city today.

On the first day of COP21, world leaders spoke of the urgent need to act against climate change and find lasting solutions, with French President Francois Hollande saying countries must leave more for children than a world free of terror.

Hollande says the world faces two massive problems: terror attacks and climate change.

"I'm not choosing between the fight against terrorism and the fight against global warming. These are two major global challenges that we must overcome because we must leave our children more than a world full of terror."

Environmental activist Naomi Klein says the world must look at solutions that will solve multiple problems all at once.

"In terms of what President Hollande said about these two threats, I think it would have been more powerful for him to talk about how war, conflict, terrorism and climate change are actually interconnected. The same forces are driving both, the Middle East has been destabilised in part because of the West's desire for fossil fuel. They are the driving force of climate change."

In Copenhagen there was optimism too, but by the time world leaders arrived at the end of two weeks of talks to sign an agreement, there wasn't one.

Negotiations had broken down and consensus was nowhere to be found.

This time, they want to do it differently.

Heads of state have met right at the beginning; to set the tone for decisive action.

The 20-page draft document has been reworked time and again for months.

But there's still much to decide, with issues like finance and legality that could derail agreement.

And although there may be the will for a global deal, analysts ask if it will be quite ambitious enough.


As world leaders discussed emissions, climate change and the urgent need for reform, Microsoft Founder Bill Gates said the cost of clean energy must come down.

Gates brought together 28 investors who are looking to buy into companies that pride themselves on affordable clean energy.

He says they intend to use their combined wealth to invest in the start-up of these firms.

"When I called up the 28 different people, I was amazed at their enthusiasm for the idea; some of them will do the investment directly and some will work through a fundable creed that will help break through technologies. But I'm sure we're going to get more people signing up, we didn't have the funds structured so we didn't go after institutions, but we'll be approaching those in the months ahead."

Earlier, Obama painted a bleak picture of the world's future if drastic action is not taken.

"A glimpse of our children's fate… if the climate keeps changing faster that our efforts to address it; submerge countries, abandoned cities, fields that no longer grow and even more floods of desperate peoples seeking the sanctuary of nations not their own. That future is not one of strong economies, nor is it one where fragile states can find their footing. That future is one that we have the power to change."

Hollande added that any agreement between countries reached at the end of the conference must be universal and binding.

"Developed countries must take on their historic responsibility. They are the ones who've emitted the most carbon dioxide emission over the years and emerging countries must accelerate their energy transition.