'Humanity is at breaking point'

The French president told the COP21 Conference that goodwill and statements of intent are not enough.

FILE: French president Francois Hollande. Picture: AFP.

JOHANNESBURG/PARIS - French President Francois Hollande says the fight against terrorism cannot be separated from the fight against global warming.

Hollande has told the COP21 Climate Change Conference in Paris that 'goodwill and statements of intent' are not enough, because humanity is now at breaking point.

"Paris must be the start of a deep change. We can no longer consider nature as a vulnerable, inexhaustible source destined for our own accomplishments."

He says the outcomes of this summit must be universal and legally binding, and that world leaders cannot disappoint.

"We are going to decide in a few days about a few decades, the greatest danger is not that our aims are too high and we missed them. No, the greatest danger is that our aims are too low."

Some 150 heads of state will launch an ambitious attempt in the French capital to hold back the earth's rising temperatures, urging each other to find common cause during two weeks of bargaining meant to steer the global economy away from dependence on fossil fuels.

After decades of struggling negotiations and the failure of a previous summit in Copenhagen six years ago, some form of landmark agreement appears all but assured by mid-December.

Warnings from climate scientists, demands from activists and exhortations from religious leaders like Pope Francis, coupled with major advances in cleaner energy sources like solar power, have all added to pressure to cut the carbon emissions held responsible for warming the planet.

Most scientists say failure to agree on strong measures in Paris would doom the world to ever-hotter average temperatures, bringing with them deadlier storms, more frequent droughts and rising sea levels as polar ice caps melt.

For some, it has already become a pressing issue at home. As the summit opened in Paris, the capitals of the world's two most populous nations, China and India, were blanketed in hazardous, choking smog, with regulators in Beijing asking factories to limit output and halting construction work.

LEADERS MUST STEP UP

Meanwhile, United Nations Chief Ban Ki-moon has called on world leaders to accelerate action to avert a dangerous rise in temperatures.

He says national emissions pledges from more than 180 nations are a good start, but aren't enough to curb global warming at the 2 °C limit scientists say can prevent the worst consequences.

The UN chief says Paris must mark a decisive turning point.

"A political moment like this may not come again, but neither have we encountered such a great opportunity at this time. You have the power to secure the well-being of this, and the succeeding generations."

US President Barack Obama also addressed conference and told delegates that cynicism is the greatest enemy at the meeting.

He says long term strategies must be found.

"Here in Paris, let's secure an agreement that bills in ambition, where progress paves the way for regularly updated targets. Targets that are not set for each of us, but by each of us taking into account the differences that each nation is facing."

Obama says America has accepted its responsibility as the world's second biggest greenhouse gas emitter to help fix climate change, adding that global action need not damage economic growth.

Additional reporting by Reuters