PARIS • Billions of dollars in environmental aid are being pledged as the first of marches worldwide began yesterday to pressure leaders heading for Paris to negotiate a historic pact to tame global warming.
In Ottawa, the Canadian government announced climate funding of 2.65 billion Canadian dollars (S$2.8 billion) over the next five years, while the 53-nation Commonwealth bloc agreed last Friday to set up a billion-dollar "Green Finance Facility" for environmental projects.
French President Francois Hollande, addressing the Commonwealth summit in Malta as head of the climate conference's host nation, called for humanity to unite in the fight against global warming.
"Man is the worst enemy of man. We can see it with terrorism," said Mr Hollande, who spoke after leading ceremonies in Paris to mourn the 130 dead victims of the Nov 13 terror attacks in the French capital.
"But we can say the same when it comes to climate. Human beings are destroying nature, damaging the environment. It is therefore for human beings to face up to their responsibilities for the good of future generations," he added.
Looking to the UN talks opening in Paris tomorrow, he called for "a binding agreement, a universal agreement, one that is ambitious".
But he also spoke of fears that a handful of countries - which he did not name - may stymie consensus if they felt the deal lacked guarantees.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, who also attended the meeting in the Maltese capital Valletta, said he was encouraged "by such a strong commitment" from Commonwealth leaders. "This is virtually the last political milestone before we meet in Paris," he noted.
Under heightened security two weeks after France's worst terror attack, some 150 heads of state and government will launch tomorrow a highly anticipated UN conference tasked with inking a 195-nation climate rescue pact.
The French authorities cancelled two rallies following the terror attacks. Activists now plan to create a 2km human chain along the original march route today.
Yesterday, thousands turned out for climate change marches across the Asia-Pacific region, part of a weekend of action across the globe to demand results from the Paris summit.
Rallies in Australia, Bangladesh, Japan, New Zealand and the Philippines illustrated the broad array of concerns over the impact of climate change, from calls for renewable energy to the plight of Pacific islanders as sea levels rise.
"Protect our common home," declared placards held aloft as thousands gathered in Melbourne and Manila. "We want to send a message to the rest of the world, especially the world leaders at the climate talks, to say our survival is not negotiable," said Ms Denise Fontanilla, spokesman for the Asian Peoples' Movement on Debt and Development, in the Philippine capital.
Similar marches are set for today in Seoul, Rio de Janeiro, New York and Mexico City.
Some 150 leaders including US President Barack Obama, China's President Xi Jinping, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin will attend the start of the Paris conference, which is tasked with reaching the first truly universal climate pact, binding 195 nations to new emission limits from 2020. The goal is to limit average global warming to 2 deg C over pre-Industrial Revolution levels by curbing fossil fuel emissions blamed for climate change.
If they fail to do so, scientists warn of a world that is increasingly inhospitable to human life, with superstorms, drought and rising sea levels swamping the land.
Last week, the UN's weather body said the average global temperature for this year is set to touch the halfway mark at 1 deg C.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE