They all came, stood together and talked about the urgency of finalising a global agreement on climate change, but within their short statements were clear indications that countries continue to have a very different view of how they would like to see this agreement framed.
Prime ministers, presidents and monarchs of 150 countries assembled at the climate change conference venue in Paris, in the biggest congregation of world leaders ever. Each one of them backed the UN negotiations that Paris is currently hosting. But while Prime Minister Narendra Modi stressed that the “commitment and strength” of the actions taken by developed countries “must be consistent with the carbon space they occupy”, President Barack Obama spoke about how no nation, big or small, was immune to the problem of climate change.
French President Francois Hollande said that the “agreement must be universal, differentiated and binding” echoing the stand of the European Union, something that the United States has strong disagreements with. US Secretary of State John Kerry said very categorically in a recent interview that a legally-binding agreement would not be acceptable to the US.
Hollande also said that the developed countries would have to accept “historical responsibility”. Many developed countries agree with this in principle but differ on how this responsibility has to be carried out. Incidentally, Obama, in his statement today, acknowledged that US had created “this problem”.
“I have come here personally, as the leader of the world’s largest economy and the second-largest emitter, to say that the United States of America not only recognises our role in creating this problem, we embrace our responsibility to do something about it,” he said in his statement that extended to almost 14 minutes when the organisers had stipulated only three minutes to every speaker. Many others also extended their time.
Modi’s emphasis that the developed countries needed to do more found an echo in Chinese President Xi Jinping’s statement as well. Xi also talked about transfer of finance and technology to the developing countries, all issues that are very dear to India, China and other developing countries.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, while calling for a “legally binding agreement”, seemed to suggest that technology would find a solution to the problem of climate change. He promised that Russia would reduce its emissions by 70 per cent as compared to 1990 levels by the year 2030. However, in its climate action plan that every country submitted in the run-up to the conference, Russia has offered no cuts in its emissions.
South African president Jacob Zuma also took up the issue of “historical responsibilities” and stressed that the Paris agreement must not focus only on emissions reduction but also lay stress on adaptation for which developed countries must provide adequate finance to the developing world.
This again is a position that is close to the heart of the developing countries.
The statements of the leaders today showed little intent to move away from their long-held positions.
Having made their statements, most would leave the city tonight to let their negotiators get on with the job of putting together an agreement that would be acceptable to everyone.