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COP21 sees largest gathering of heads of state ever

The COP21 climate negotiations kick off in Paris today just weeks after the terror attacks.

FILE. This morning marks the opening of the COP21 climate negotiations, where leaders are meeting under the auspices of the United Nations to hammer out a new global agreement on climate change. Picture: freeimages.com

PARIS/CAPE TOWN - Despite the recent terror attacks in Paris, today will see the largest gathering of heads of state ever coming together in the French capital.

This morning marks the opening of the COP21 climate negotiations where leaders are meeting under the auspices of the United Nations to hammer out a new global agreement on climate change.

Heads-of-state from more than 190 nations including President Jacob Zuma, have gathered in Paris for the potentially historic talks, amid heightened security.

The conference will for the first time in more than 20 years try to reach a legally binding and universal agreement on dealing with climate change.

KYOTO PROTOCOL

Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) South Africa CEO Morné du Plessis says climate change will have serious effects on the earth if a successor to the Kyoto Protocol is not agreed upon.

The Kyoto Protocol is a binding agreement by nations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

But du Plessis says an agreement is unlikely as the world's biggest polluters, China and the United States, will not ratify any treaty that legally commits them to reduce carbon emissions.

"It's very difficult to get 190-odd nations, sitting in a barrel, each with a paddle and try to row in the same direction. Not every country views their contribution to climate change in the same way as others."

The COP21 Conference will run from today until 11 December.

ADDRESSING INEQUALITY

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu says the talks provide an opportunity for powerful people to address inequality.

The goal of the climate change talks is to limit global warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Tutu and his daughter Mpho have issued a statement saying global warming is the human rights challenge of our time.

They say COP21 is a chance for powerful people and nations to acknowledge that their environmental wellbeing, security and sustainability, is dependent on the wellbeing, security and sustainability of others.

The Tutus say should world leaders grasp the opportunity and develop a legally binding treaty to mitigate climate change, it will signal the end of the age of reckless consumption, exploitation and greed.

"But failing to grasp the nettle will send a direct message of contempt to poorer nations and people, who cannot afford the costs of mitigating the impacts of increasing temperatures. It will trigger unprecedented economic and refugee crises, and dramatically deepen global insecurity."

(Edited By Tamsin Wort)