PARIS -- Addressing almost 200 countries at the U.N. Climate Change Conference on Monday evening, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that the fate of the planet would be decided over the next few days, but it was the responsibility of developed countries to shoulder the burden of saving the world.
In his speech, Modi stuck to India's long-standing positions in climate change negotiations despite pressure on New Delhi to take on weightier obligations to combat the global crisis.
"Democratic India must grow rapidly to meet the aspirations of 1.25 billion people, 300 million of whom are without access to energy," Modi said on Monday evening at the Le Bourget centre.
Climate justice demands that developed nations reduce their CO2 emissions and allow developing countries to use the remaining carbon space to pursue their economic growth, Modi said.
In a display of political will, world leaders from 150 countries, including U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping, made speeches about countering climate change before global warming reached a point of no return.
"I've 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 environment, we embrace our responsibility to do something about it," said Obama.
"This is a turning point. This is the moment that we finally decided to save our planet," he said.
The main objective of this two-weeks long conference is for nations to reach an agreement on how to stop global temperature from rising above two degrees Celsius over preindustrial levels, and avert the deadliest consequences of climate change. So far, the combined CO2 emissions reduction targets will limit temperature rise to 2.7 degrees Celsius.
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Even as world leaders spoke of joining hands to counter climate change, their speeches reflected the stark divergences which have plagued these negotiations for years.
Perry G. Christie, Prime Minister of Bahamas, who spoke just before Modi, reiterated that two degrees Celsius was too dangerous for Small Island Developing Nations, and the target should be 1.5 degrees Celsius.
India is contending with a huge challenge to combat poverty and accelerate its economic growth, which will largely be powered by fossil fuels over the next two decades, and deal with climate change - a crisis to which it is hugely vulnerable.
In view of global concerns and its own vulnerability to climate change, India's action plan is to reduce the emissions intensity of its GDP by 33-35 percent by 2030 from 2005 levels, and produce 40 percent of electric power from non-fossil fuel based energy.
Around 40 billion tonnes of CO2 has been emitted into the atmosphere. The largest emitters are China at 28 percent, US at 14 percent, EU at 10 percent and India at 7 percent (with the highest growth rate of 5.1 percent), according to the 2014 Global Carbon Report.
India produces 1.9 tonnes of emissions per person (per capita), compared with 16.4 tonnes per person in the U.S., 7.2 tonnes in China and 6.8 tonnes in the EU.
While the world is worried about India's plan to ramp up its production of coal to 1.5 billion metric tons of coal by 2020, which will make it second only to China in coal production, New Delhi has ruled out any compromise on its development agenda.
Over the past year, however, the Modi government has escalated its efforts to communicate its "unique position" to the world, and appear to be engaging constructively.
During his one-day long trip to COP21, Modi had three bilateral meetings with Japan, France and the United States.
French President Francois Hollande joined Modi in launching the International Solar Alliance which is his government's effort to bring together nations for an exchange of ideas on how to make solar energy available cheaply. India has pledged $30 million to build the secretariat infrastructure.
"As the developing world lift billions of people into prosperity, our hope for a sustainable planet rests on a bold global initiative. It will mean advanced countries leaving enough carbon space for developing countries to grow. That is natural climate justice." PM Narendra Modi at COP21.
Key challenges in this conference (Paris COP21) include ramping up the level of ambition on emissions reduction goals to meet the 2 degree Celsius target, ensuring that developed countries provide adequate finances for poor countries to adapt to climate change, as well as paying for damages caused by extreme weather events.
Countries also have to work out procedural issues on the mechanism of funding, monitoring how countries pursue their domestic action plans to combat climate change, and establish some degree of accountability.
"Here in Paris let us secure an agreement that builds in ambition, where progress paves the way for regularly updated targets. Targets that are not set by each for us but for each of us taking into account the difference which each nation is facing. Here in Paris, let us agree to a strong system of transparency that gives all of us confidence that each of us are meeting our commitments." President Barack Obama at COP21.
Echoing India's cornerstone position of "historical responsibility," Modi said that "principles of equity and common but differentiated responsibilities must remain the bedrock of our collective enterprise."
In his speech, Obama insisted that "strong economic growth and safer environment" are not antithetical.
"Last year, the global economy grew while global carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels stayed flat. And what this means can't be overstated. We have broken the old arguments for inaction. We have proved that strong economic growth and a safer environment no longer have to conflict with one another," he said.
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