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Obama speaks at a press conference before today's climate talks.

The Haggling Begins: Highlights of the Paris Climate Conference

Dec. 1, 2015
Obama warns of economic risks of inaction, while France commits $6 billion to renewable energy in Africa over four years.

PARIS—At the Conference on Climate Change in Paris this week, bureaucrats from 195 nations on Monday began their quest to distil a sprawling 54-page text into a workable draft agreement. The document will then be passed to environment and foreign ministers for the talks' final phase.

If all goes well, the climate talks will close on December 11 with a post-2020 deal to roll back carbon emissions and ratchet up climate finance. But UN climate parlays are notorious for overrunning, squabbling and nit-picking.

"We are really up against the clock and up against the wall," Daniel Reifsnyder, one of the talks' co-chairs, told negotiators on Tuesday morning.

Here are some of the highlights from Day Two.

Obama Warns of Climate Risks

U.S. President Barack Obama warned global warming posed imminent security and economic risks in a speech on the sidelines of the summit. 

"Before long we are going to have to devote more and more of our economic and military resources, not to growing opportunity for our people, but to adapting to the various consequences of a changing planet," he said.

He added, though, "despite all that, the main message I have got is, I actually think we are going to solve this thing."

France Gives 6 Billion Euros to Africa

French President Francois Hollande announced his country would dish out six billion euros to Africa for electricity over four years. "The world owes an ecological debt to the African continent," he said.

But there was some confusion over the figures. When asked for a breakdown on the sums, the president's aides could only say that two billion euros would go to renewable energy schemes.

Nicaragua Refuses to Submit Plan

Nicaragua said it would not play ball with the negotiation format by submitting a voluntary plan to curb emissions, arguing the whole process is designed to let rich countries off the hook for their history of pollution. 

The South American nation is the first country to refuse to submit a national plan for cutting heat-trapping carbon gas emissions, with lead negotiator Paul Oquist saying: "We're not trying to shirk our role, but we're not going to participate and become accomplices."

Coal Plants 'Will Wreck' Efforts

Adding to the pressure, Climate Action Tracker, a respected research group, said new coal-fired plants that are planned around the world would wreck hopes of meeting the U.N. target of curbing warming to two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) over pre-Industrial Revolution levels.

"There is a solution to this issue of too many coal plants on the books: cancel them," said Pieter Van Breevoort of Ecofys, part of Climate Action Tracker.

Republican Skeptics Get Obama Roasting

The US leader was dismissive of climate change-denying Republican opponents such as Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, suggesting they might want to listen to "not just 99.5% of scientists and experts, but 99% of world leaders" who believe it is a serious problem. "Your credibility and America's ability to influence events depends on taking seriously what other countries care about," Obama told reporters. 

But he said he was not too worried: "I'm anticipating a Democrat succeeding me. I'm confident in the wisdom of the American people on that front."

No More Oxygen?

As if the world did not have enough to worry about already, a new study from Britain's University of Leicester said extreme global warming--6 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels--would impair oxygen-making microscopic marine plants called phytoplankton. In short, the planet could face oxygen depletion.

"Should it happen, it would obviously kill most of life on Earth," was the team's sunny prognosis. The doomsday scenario would require temperatures to leap another 5 Celsius over today's levels, something that lies beyond mainstream projections.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2015

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