PARIS — President Obama joined leaders from 150 nations on Monday in pledging action against climate change, kicking off a historic two-week gathering that Obama called a “turning point” in the battle against one of humanity’s gravest threats.
Heads of state from industrial powers and tiny island nations assembled in a heavily guarded conference center north of Paris, where negotiators hope to forge a treaty to dramatically reduce emissions of greenhouse-gas pollution blamed for warming the planet.
Obama, speaking a few miles from the site of the Nov. 13 terrorist attack in the French capital, called for urgent action against a challenge that he suggested was greater even than the fight against terrorism.
“The growing threat of climate change could define the contours of this century more dramatically than any other,” Obama said in a speech at the Le Bourget conference center in Paris’s industrial outskirts. “What should give us hope that this is a turning point, that this is the moment we finally determined we would save our planet.”
Obama, who has staked his legacy on the fight against climate change, struck an ominous tone in describing the ravages of a warming planet, declaring that “no nation large or small, wealthy or poor, is immune.” He urged the leaders to take action even if the benefits were not evident for generations.
Citing Martin Luther King Jr., he warned that “there is such a thing as being too late.”
The remarks came during a day of ceremonial fanfare as well as substantive progress in marshaling resources to speed the shift to cleaner energy. U.S. officials formally announced the formation of a 20-nation initiative to spur funding on energy research, in tandem with a similar undertaking led by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and 27 of the world’s wealthiest private investors.
But there were also signs of discord as negotiators prepared to haggle over details of a complex treaty that requires all nations — even the poorest ones — to make a contribution to cutting greeenhouse-gas pollution. Some developing countries have insisted on compensation for economic and environmental damage stemming from decades of industrial emissions that came mostly from Western industrial powers.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius opened the conference by calling on all governments to back an ambitious treaty.
“The stakes are too high and the menace of climate change is too great for us to be content with a minimalistic agreement,” he said.