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Paris climate talks could fail, warns Francois Hollande

Nations must make a greater effort to reach agreement or else millions face the risk of becoming climate refugees, says French president

French president Francois Hollande has also called for a firm international commitment on climate financing. Photograph: Alain Jocard/AFP/Getty Images

The president of France, Francois Hollande, has warned that the global climate change talks scheduled for Paris this December will fail unless nations make a much greater effort to reach agreement – and that the result could be millions of new refugees fleeing climate disaster.

“There is a risk of failure,” he told journalists, after a meeting on the issue of providing financial assistance to poor countries affected by climate change. “If we don’t conclude [with a successful agreement], and there are no substantial measures to ensure the transition [to a climate-affected world], it won’t be hundreds of thousands of refugees in the next 20 years, it will be millions.”

His warning comes after an inconclusive week of UN negotiations in Bonn, and ahead of a crucial meeting of world leaders later this month in New York.

Hollande has staked his political capital on a successful outcome in Paris, where countries will meet in the hopes of hammering out a global agreement on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, to come into force from 2020.

But as pre-Paris talks stalled in Bonn last week, with only five official negotiating days to go before the Paris conference begins, negotiators are left with a mountain to climb before a text suitable for agreement by governments can be crafted.

Many observers are pinning their hopes on the UN general assembly in New York later this month, at which world leaders are expected to adopt a new set of “sustainable development goals” that will address social issues such as healthcare, education and gender equity. But there will also be ample opportunity for them to discuss climate change, and instruct their negotiating teams to clear the roadblocks from a potential Paris agreement.

The French, as hosts, have launched a concerted diplomatic effort this year, aimed at forging an agreement that could determine whether the world stays within the 2C of warming that scientists have warned is the limit of safety, beyond which global warming is likely to become irreversible and catastrophic.

Targets on emissions curbs, to come in from 2020 and last until 2025 or 2030, have been tabled by most of the world’s major developed and developing economies. Countries responsible for about two-thirds of the planet’s current emissions have now made pledges, which the French government has hailed as a massive achievement.

Critics, including many civil society organisations, have pointed out that these pledges are still inadequate to cut emissions in line with scientific advice. But the French view is that, even if the pledges are not enough in themselves, the Paris conference will still be a success if it can create a mechanism by which, through regular revision of countries’ commitments and a ratcheting up of pledges, the scientific goal can be reached.

But Hollande warned that this would still take a great deal more effort on ensuring that finance is available for the task, from both public and private sources.

Developing countries were promised, at the last major global climate talks in Copenhagen in 2009, that they would receive at least $100bn a year in financial flows to help them cut emissions and cope with the effects of climate change. However, there is still no agreement on what should happen to financial assistance after 2020, which is a major sticking point at the talks.

Hollande told journalists: “There will not be an agreement if there is no firm commitment on financing.”

Hollande’s mission at the UN assembly in three weeks’ time will be to persuade world leaders to translate into action the “political will” which many of them have professed to see the Paris talks succeed.

By: Fiona Harvey

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