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Paris climate talks open with debate over cuts for poorer nations

More than 150 heads of state and government have converged on Paris in hopes of finalizing the strongest agreement yet to reduce heat-trapping emissions of greenhouse gases. This time many countries committed to action in advance, but there is still debate over what role developing countries will play. Gwen Ifill reports.

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  • GWEN IFILL:

    The place is Paris. The subject is global warming. The goal is the strongest agreement yet to rein in rising temperatures. What could be difficult talks on the issue began today.

    PRESIDENT FRANCOIS HOLLANDE, France (through interpreter): On this first day of the conference, we have our backs against the wall.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    The summit opened with a warning from its host, French President Francois Hollande.

    PRESIDENT FRANCOIS HOLLANDE (through interpreter): This wall is built on all our egoisms, our fears, our resignations. This wall is built on indifference, recklessness, and weakness. But this wall can be scaled and it all depends on us.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    In all, 151 heads of state and government converged on the French capital. They're hoping to finalize an accord on reducing heat-trapping emissions of greenhouse gases.

    But the Paris attacks loomed in the background, as President Hollande argued the problems of climate and security are linked.

    PRESIDENT FRANCOIS HOLLANDE (through interpreter): They're two big world challenges that we have to overcome, because we have to leave our children something more than a world free of terror. We owe them a planet preserved from catastrophe.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    To underscore the point, after arriving last night, President Obama paid a visit to the Bataclan concert hall, one of the sites of the attacks. Today, he was among the first to speak, and he spoke hopefully of a turning point on more than just climate.

  • PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:

    Let that be the common purpose here in Paris, a world that is worthy of our children, a world that is marked not by conflict, but by cooperation, and not by human suffering, but by human progress, a world that's safer and more prosperous and more secure and more free than the one that we inherited.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    A similar effort collapsed in Copenhagen six years ago, but, this time, many countries committed to action in advance.

    Last year, Mr. Obama pledged to reduce U.S. carbon emissions by 26-28 percent below 2005 levels over the next decade. And China, the world's largest greenhouse gas producer, has said it will slash emissions by at least 60 percent by 2030.

    For any deal to be meaningful, India, the world's third largest emitter, would have to make solid cuts as well. But Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said today developing nations need room to grow.

  • NARENDRA MODI, Prime Minister, India:

    We have to ensure, in the spirit of climate justice, that the life of a few doesn't cloud out the opportunities for the many still on the initial steps of the development ladder.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Chinese President Xi Jinping, speaking at the summit, echoed that concern and called for addressing economic differences.

    PRESIDENT XI JINPING, China (through interpreter): Countries need to increase dialogue, exchange best practices and achieve common development through mutual learning. At the same time, countries should be allowed to pursue their own solutions that best suit their respective national conditions.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    The U.S. joined Canada, Germany, Italy and others today in committing $250 million for poorer nations.

    President Obama also announced a private sector initiative led by Microsoft founder Bill Gates and other billionaires to boost investment in clean energy.

    Still, any broad agreement in Paris will not take the form of a legally enforceable treaty.

    But German Chancellor Angela Merkel called for transparent, credible commitments.

    ANGELA MERKEL, Chancellor, Germany (through interpreter): We need a United Nations framework that is binding, and we need binding reviews. We know that the agreements are made voluntary, but it's also important that we also stick to what we have promised.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    The Paris conference is set to run through December 11.

    We will explore what's at stake in Paris in detail after the news summary.

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