LE BOURGET, France — The largest gathering of world leaders in history on Monday began a multinational effort toward forging what many called the planet’s last, best hope to stave off the worst consequences of climate change.
“Never have the stakes of an international meeting been so high, since what is at stake is the future of the planet, the future of life,” President François Hollande of France told a packed United Nations plenary session at a convention center in this suburb north of Paris.
Over the next two weeks, 30,000 diplomats and delegates will labor to hammer out a new global pact that would, for the first time, commit nearly every country on earth to enact new policies to reduce their planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions.
The talks were kicked off by world leaders including President Obama, President Xi Jinping of China, Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India, and President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, as well as leaders from smaller nations and those most endangered by the effects of rising temperatures.
Many remarked upon the urgency of the task — but also upon a new optimism that a successful deal could be closer at hand than ever before, despite significant obstacles in the negotiating days ahead.
The Paris talks represent the culmination of more than 20 years of efforts to enact such a deal, including two previous meetings of world leaders. Both of those gatherings — in Kyoto in 1997 and in Copenhagen in 2009 — ended with documents that were ultimately viewed as failures.
New scientific reports show that the destructive effects of climate change have already begun to sweep the planet, with the global economy firmly on track to produce a level of emissions that would lock in a future of rising sea levels, intense droughts and food shortages, more destructive storms and floods, and other catastrophic impacts.
If the Paris talks collapse or end in failure, it may be many years before world leaders will again try to negotiate a similar deal.
Interactive Feature | Chasing a Climate Deal
Already, a series of analyses have concluded that the best deal that could emerge from Paris would most likely cut emissions by only about half the level needed to avert the worst impacts. That would leave a Paris deal as a step forward to solving climate change, but not the solution in and of itself.
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