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France’s Hollande, Pope Francis plead for climate action

Gabriel Bouys, AFP | French President François Hollande and Pope Francis, pictured here at the Vatican in January 2014, are at the forefront of the battle against climate change

French President François Hollande and Pope Francis made separate appeals Tuesday for urgent action to tackle climate change ahead of a key UN summit in Paris later this year.

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Hollande hosted campaigners, scholars and religious leaders from around the world at a "Summit of Conscience for the Climate" in the French capital.

“An agreement must be found”, he told participants, among them UN chief Kofi Annan and Hollywood star turned “Guvernator” Arnold Schwarzenegger.

As some 40 foreign and environment ministers met elsewhere in the French capital to accelerate flagging UN negotiations, Hollande underlined the urgency -- and difficulty -- of their task.

"Today, with the agreement we see taking shape, we are still above two degrees Celsius, and probably three," said the French president, stressing the urgency of the task ahead of negotiators.

The United Nations has embraced a goal of limiting average global warming to two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) over pre-industrial levels.

Scientists say disastrous climate impacts can be avoided at this threshold, but warn that the world is on course for double the target, or more.

Any global accord reached at the November 30-December 11 talks in Paris will be supported by a roster of voluntary national pledges to cut greenhouse gas emissions over the next 10 to 15 years.

Hollande added that the global economy would have to take a sharp turn towards renewable energy.

Reaching a viable deal, he said, would require "forsaking the use of 80 percent of fossil-based energy resources to which we still have easy access".

Mayors at forefront of climate battle

Also on Tuesday, dozens of mayors from around the world wrapped up a two-day conference at the Vatican, urging their national leaders to take bold steps at the Paris climate talks later this year.

One by one, some of the 60 mayors invited to the Holy See lined up to sign a final declaration stating that "human-induced climate change is a scientific reality and its effective control is a moral imperative for humanity."

Experts have long said that cities are key to reducing global warming since urban areas account for nearly three-quarters of human emissions.

Drawing rousing applause, California Gov. Jerry Brown denounced global warming deniers who he said are "bamboozling" the public and politicians with false information to persuade them that the world isn't getting warmer.

"We have a very powerful opposition that, at least in my country, spends billions on trying to keep from office people such as yourselves and elect troglodytes and other deniers of the obvious science," he told mayors at the gathering.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced new greenhouse gas emissions targets for the Big Apple - committing the city to reducing its emissions 40 percent by 2030 - and urged other cities to follow suit.

"The Paris summit is just months away," De Blasio said. "We need to see it as the finish line of a sprint, and take every local action we can in the coming months to maximise the chance that our national governments will act boldly."

De Blasio is a founding member of an alliance of world cities that have committed to reducing emissions by 80 percent by 2050 or sooner.

‘Conscience of humanity’

Stockholm Mayor Karin Wanngard said the Paris climate talks must take fossil fuels off the table and focus instead on renewable energy sources.

"Climate negotiators must dare to push boundaries and exclude fossil fuels as an option and reward solutions that are long-term sustainable and renewable," she said.

Stockholm is one of the world's leaders in using renewable energy sources, with 75 percent of the city's public transport network running on renewable energy. Wanngard's goal is to make the Swedish capital fossil fuel-free by 2040.

The climax of Tuesday's inaugural session was the afternoon audience with Pope Francis, who has become a hero to the environmental movement and has used his moral authority and enormous popularity to focus world attention on climate change and its effects on the poor.

Francis last month released an environmental encyclical that denounced what he calls a fossil fuel-based world economy that exploits the poor and destroys the Earth.

The pope told the gathering Tuesday that he had "a lot of hope" that the Paris negotiations would succeed, but also told the mayors: "You are the conscience of humanity."

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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