Two weeks after the Paris attack, leaders are flying in amid an atmosphere of unprecedented optimism that an agreement is possible on climate change.
More than 140 world leaders are gathering in the French capital to kick-start two weeks of talks that aim to reach the first truly global deal to cut greenhouse gases.
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull arrives from Malta, where he lobbied Commonwealth leaders to send a strong signal of the importance of a deal in Paris.
Speaking before leaving the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, Mr Turnbull also took a swipe at Opposition Leader Bill Shorten for making a “heroic” and uncosted pledge to make a much deeper cut in greenhouse gas emissions than the government plans.
Mr Turnbull said the cost of Mr Shorten’s indicative goal of a 45 per cent cut in emissions by 2030 (compared with 2005 levels) would be “very, very considerable”. The government has promised a cut of 26-28 per cent.
“I think it’s a political rather than an environmental statement,” Mr Turnbull said of the Labour pledge.
But Mr Shorten, who is also attending the Paris talks, said Labour’s position was about being responsible, not heroics. “It’s a real shame Malcolm Turnbull is following his party on climate change, not leading it,” he said.
Both the government and opposition have said the long-term goal is “net zero emissions”. “What we want from Paris … is a strong and durable agreement that commits all countries to effective, credible action on climate change,” Mr Turnbull said.
As delegates to the talks started to arrive, climate marches were held in cities across the globe. Tens of thousands marched in central Sydney on Sunday.
The opening day of the talks is expected to include an appearance by Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist Bill Gates, who was to join heads of state to launch a multibillion-dollar clean energy research-and-development initiative. Countries that sign up will commit to doubling clean research and development spending by 2020.
Early signs are that the French summit is better organised than the Copenhagen conference six years ago, when leaders could not bridge deep divisions between industrialised and developing nations. Of 195 countries attending, 177 have made pledges to either cut emissions or slow emissions growth.
Since 2009, the cost of alternatives to fossil fuels has decreased and scientific concern about global warming has mounted, increasing the political will to act.
“The stars are more aligned right now to reach agreement than I have ever seen them,” US Special Envoy for Climate Change, Todd Stern said.
If reached, a Paris deal is not expected to include commitments ambitious enough to keep warming within 2 degrees, as leaders have agreed is necessary. (Estimates suggest current commitments add up to about 2.7 degrees of warming.) But it is hoped a deal would build momentum, and includes five-yearly reviews under which countries would increase commitments in coming years.
Many developing countries say this is still not enough, and are calling for a goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees.
The World Meteorological Organisation has reported 2015 is on track to be the hottest on record, with average temperatures 1 degree above pre-industrial levels.
Areas of disagreement coming into the Paris deal include the legal nature of the deal, the review process and how much support industrial nations should give poorer countries to cut their emissions and cope with the effects of warming.
Australia will be represented by Mr Turnbull on the first day, Environment Minister Greg Hunt for the first week and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop for the second.
In Malta, Mr Turnbull said he hoped the Paris talks would include a focus on technology.
“The solutions to the climate change challenge lie very much in the field of technology and innovation. You just have to look at the way that so many renewable technologies have improved rapidly in the years,” he said.
He cited recent improvements in solar technology and battery storage as key examples.
He announced Australia would provide $1 million to a new Commonwealth Climate Finance Access Hub, to be based in Mauritius and help small island developing and least-developed states to access existing climate funds