PARIS-US President Barack Obama has said the UN climate conference in Paris could be a “turning point” in global efforts to limit future temperature rises.
Negotiators from 195 countries will try to reach a deal within two weeks aimed at reducing global carbon emissions and limiting global warming to 2C (3.6F).
Leaders from 147 nations are addressing the meeting, known as COP21.
President Obama urged negotiators to deliver a meaningful deal, because the “next generation is watching”.
He told delegates: “Climate change could define the contours of this century more than any other (challenge).
“I came here personally to say the United States not only recognises the problem but is committed to do something about it.”
He added that recent years had shown that the global economy had grown while emissions had remained flat, breaking the old arguments for inaction “that economic growth and environmental protection were in conflict”.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said during negotiations for the preceding Kyoto Protocol, Moscow was the last industrialised nation to ratify the global agreement, allowing the landmark deal to come into force in 2001.
Echoing President Obama, Mr Putin said: “We have demonstrated we can ensure economic development and take care of our environment at the same time.”
In a diplomatic play on semantics, probably to highlight the differing points of view between industrialised and emerging economies, Chinese President Xi Jinping told the conference he did not see the Paris talks as a turning point nor a “finish line, but a new starting point”.
He said that climate change went beyond national borders and that it was “a shared mission for all mankind”, before reiterating China’s pledge to start cutting its emissions from a peak in 2030.
Peruvian Environment Minister Manuel Pulgar Vidal, who declared the Paris meeting open, said strong action on carbon emissions was essential for multiple reasons.
Mr Vidal, who hosted last year’s UN climate conference in Lima, said a deal would show the world that countries can work together to fight global warming as well as terrorism.
Christiana Figueres, the head of the UN’s climate change negotiations, also addressed delegates, saying never before had a responsibility so great been in the hands of so few.
“The world is looking to you,” she said. “The world is counting on you.” The talks are taking place amid tight security, two weeks after attacks in Paris claimed by the so-called Islamic State (IS) group.
World leaders are attending the start of the two-week meeting to give impetus to the talks, after the high-profile failure of the Copenhagen summit in 2009. -BBC