World's Largest Polluters to Meet on First Day of Climate Talks

The Push for Climate Control in Paris
  • Obama meeting with Xi, Modi to give momentum to climate taks
  • Terrorism fight also on agenda when president heads to Paris

President Barack Obama will meet with the leaders of China and India on the opening day of talks in Paris to reach an international climate agreement, a symbolic gesture that the White House says underscores the commitment of the world’s largest emitters of greenhouse gases to tackle rising global temperatures.

The announcement last year by China, the world’s largest polluter, of a commitment to cut its carbon emissions after secret negotiations with the U.S. is credited with helping drive momentum for the Paris meeting. Under the agreement, China said its emissions will peak by 2030 as it increasingly turns to clean energy sources.

The Obama administration has had more difficulty winning agreement with India. Officials there reacted angrily after Secretary of State John Kerry said in an interview last week with the Financial Times that the nation posed a “challenge” for the Paris talks.

The meetings with China’s Xi Jinping and India’s Narendra Modi, both on Monday, the first day of the United Nations summit, are intended to "send the strong message to the world about their shared commitment," White House Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said in a conference call with journalists.

The Obama administration hopes that the president’s attendance at the first two days of the climate talks can help "generate momentum for a successful outcome," Rhodes said.

Island Nations

In addition to his meetings with the Chinese and Indian leaders, Obama on Tuesday will meet with representatives of island nations most at risk from rising sea levels. Those countries and other developing nations want the industrialized world to provide money to help them mitigate the effects of climate change and subsidize their own transitions from carbon-emitting fossil fuels.

The White House hopes the talks will produce specific, verifiable pollution-reduction targets for the next 15 years and also lay groundwork for further reductions in the future, said Paul Bodnar, the senior director for energy and climate change with the National Security Council. The world’s wealthiest nations also want to settle on financing to assist developing countries -- a difficult commitment for the Obama administration, which faces resistance in Congress from Republicans still skeptical of scientific consensus that humans are causing climate change.

"There is a lot of hard work ahead," Bodnar said.

The climate summit also provides world leaders including Obama the opportunity to show solidarity against terrorism after the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris that killed 130 people. Islamic State has claimed credit for the violence, and French President Francois Hollande declared the attacks an act of war by the extremists.

Paris Victims

White House aides say Obama is likely to find some way to memorialize the dead during his visit, and that he and Hollande will hold a working dinner to discuss both the progress of the climate talks and their joint military campaign against Islamic State.

The pair met Tuesday at the White House and pledged to increase the pace of air strikes against Islamic State targets and improve intelligence sharing between their militaries. Hollande is scheduled to meet Wednesday with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Thursday with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Hollande and Obama agreed that an alliance with Russia against Islamic State won’t be possible unless Putin’s forces in Syria begin targeting the extremist group instead of more moderate rebel groups opposed to the regime of Bashar al-Assad, a Russian ally.

White House officials would not say whether Obama planned to meet with Putin during the summit. Rhodes noted the two leaders usually talk on the sidelines of meetings they both attend.

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