Paris Talks Potent Post-Attack Symbol: Obama, Hollande

Turn to the nation's most objective and informative daily environmental news resource to learn how the United States and key players around the world are responding to the environmental...

By Anthony Adragna and Dean Scott

Nov. 24 — Two weeks of international talks in Paris in pursuit of an agreement to address climate change will serve as a powerful symbol of hope following the terrorist attack on the City of Light, President Barack Obama and French President Francois Hollande said Nov. 24.

“What a powerful rebuke to the terrorists it will be when the world stands as one and shows that we will not be deterred from building a better future for our children,” Obama said at a joint press conference, referring to the two weeks of United Nations climate talks that begin Nov. 30.

Those climate talks are slated to begin with speeches by world leaders who hope to push their negotiators to sealing an international climate agreement at the conclusion of the Paris talks Dec. 11. The Obama administration announced Nov. 24 that the president would personally meet with key world leader during the talks and that a roster of top administration officials will also participate in the negotiations.

The U.S. president will hold bilateral meetings Nov. 30 with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and with Chinese President Xi Jinping, participate in the opening session of the talks and have a dinner with Hollande, a senior administration official told reporters.

The following day, Obama will participate in a Dec. 1 event with island nations already experiencing climate change impacts such as the Seychelles, Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, Papua New Guinea, Saint Lucia and Barbados to “highlight the stakes involved at the Paris talks,” according to Ben Rhodes, U.S. deputy national security adviser.

Nearly 150 world leaders will speak during the first day of the 21st Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP-21) after speeches from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and Hollande, according to a published schedule.

The talks will go on as scheduled despite a Nov. 13 terrorist attack in Paris that killed 130 people (221 DEN A-3, 11/17/15)

Various Officials to Attend

Various U.S. cabinet officials including Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy will attend the talks at various points, Rhodes said. Kerry will accompany Obama for the president's trip and then likely return for the second week of talks.

“I think the goal here is to give a push at the head of state level at the beginning of the process and then rely on Secretary Kerry, Secretary Moniz and others to finalize the various details,” Rhodes said.

The talks, which are supposed to conclude with an international agreement to address greenhouse gas emissions beginning in 2020, are slated to run through Dec. 11. Negotiators appear committed to avoiding a repeat of 2009 talks in Copenhagen, the last time the United Nations tried, and failed, to reach a global agreement on climate change. 

Pledges Represent ‘Buy-in.’

U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern told reporters on a press call Nov. 24 that the roughly 170 pledges countries have put on the table toward the Paris climate accord are a good indication that countries will succeed in getting a deal in Paris, particularly given that 120 or so of those offers have come from developing nations including China, India and Brazil.

“That indicates a significant buy-in from this community,” Stern said. “No one would put in the blood, sweat and tears of this if they didn't think this was going to happen.”

The nearly 200 nations meeting in Paris next week in hopes of sealing a global climate accord need to do more than just claim victory by committing generally to global action and shoot for the most ambitious agreement possible, Stern, the top U.S. negotiator, said. Stern, who was on the front lines of Kyoto Protocol negotiations nearly two decades ago as senior White House negotiator for President Bill Clinton, said negotiators have to push for the most ambitious deal possible in Paris.

“What we want to be careful about is not to agree to a [deal] that is minimalist and puts off issues to the future” such as ways to verify nations are making good on their pledges and a method to strengthen the deal every five years or so, Stern said. While the precise details of those requirements may be punted to the next round of UN talks a year from now in Morocco, developed and developing countries need to make sure the agreement “is robust itself” and not “a few limited words” that only broadly commit countries to working together to combat climate change (199 DEN B-1, 10/15/15).

“Now is the time” for getting an ambitious deal, the U.S. official said.

Equity Issues Front and Center

Stern said there remain several obstacles to getting a deal—which would be the first in which developed and developing countries alike agree to address climate change—including the degree to which the accord differentiates between actions those differing nations would take.

The U.S. has pushed China and other developing nations to move away from their once-strict adherence to the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities” that was enshrined in the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the parent treaty to the agreement negotiators hope to reach in Paris.

That principle suggested the actions countries should take on should be commensurate with what a nation could achieve technologically or afford. The debate over the equity of the agreement will be a core issue in Paris, as developing nations seek to insert language making their commitments more conditional given they are still developing and developed nations push to eliminate such distinctions as much as possible.

Precisely how the Paris deal is to include references to differentiation “is an ongoing discussion,” Stern said, noting that it had “come up across” a host of issues central to the deal, including whether transparency and measurement requirements to ensure countries make good on their emissions pledges should be applied equally to developed and developing nations. The differentiation issue also could be fought in other arenas, such as the debate over climate finance for developing nations, Stern said.

Other issues negotiators have to settle in Paris include whether the climate deal will include a global goal to keep temperatures from rising beyond 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) this century compared to pre-industrial times, to avoid what scientists warn will be the worst impacts of climate change. Negotiators already have acknowledged the actions put on the table by the U.S., China and other countries over the last year toward the Paris deal do not make deep enough cuts in emissions to keep temperature rise below that threshold.

Lastly, developed and developing countries will face off over the issue of loss and damage—a kind of insurance policy to compensate developing nations for damages they argue stem from the greenhouse gases already emitted by developed nations. The U.S. would likely accept including some mention of the notion of loss and damage in the Paris accord as long as it stops short of suggesting industrialized nations should have to compensate developing nations for such damages.

World Bank Head Optimistic

Others are also optimistic a deal is within reach in Paris, including World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim.

“My own sense is that there's a very strong sense of destiny and that everyone who comes to Paris will want to see an agreement,” Kim said in a separate Nov. 24 call with reporters. “Now, there are many issues that still have to be worked out,” he said, including climate finance.

Climate aid is considered crucial to getting the support of developing countries that have not historically contributed to the bulk of emissions linked to climate impacts happening now, which are predominantly the result of emissions from developed nations.

“We believe that there is a credible path for reaching the $100 billion a year [in climate finance] by 2020 that was promised in Copenhagen,” Kim said. That pledge, unveiled at the 2009 Copenhagen climate summit by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, was meant to prod developing nations to the table and agree to commitments under the climate agreement before negotiations in Paris.

State AGs Press Kerry

In a separate development, two attorneys general urged U.S. negotiators to disclose the linchpin of U.S. carbon emissions reduction pledges—the Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan—is “unlikely to be the law for very long” and is the subject of legal challenges from 27 states.

“We expect our federal representatives to respect that system of dual sovereignty both here at home and in negotiations abroad,” West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who are leading legal challenges to the Clean Power Plan, wrote.

The attorneys general further wrote they believe any accord would be “legally non-binding unless it is submitted to and ratified by the U.S. Senate.” The letter marks the latest attempt—and most recent in a series of letters—from Republicans to undercut the president heading into the negotiations (226 DEN A-11, 11/24/15).

To contact the reporters on this story: Anthony Adragna, Dean Scott and Andrea Vittorio in Washington at and

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jessica Coomes at

With assistance from Andrew Childers and Andrea Vittorio in Washington.

For More Information 
The published schedule for when world leaders will deliver remarks Dec. 1 is available at

The letter from the attorneys general to Secretary Kerry is available at


Request Environment & Energy Report