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The Eyes of the World are on Paris

Climate

The nations of the world gathered on Monday in Paris to reach a new and universal climate change agreement, in the knowledge that they have already delivered an almost universal set of national responses to meet the long-term climate challenge before the conference even begins.

More than 150 heads of state arrived at the conference venue on Monday to give their public support, the largest group of leaders ever to attend a UN event in a single day.

Speaking at the opening ceremony, which was webcast live around the world, UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres said that the eyes of millions of people around the world were on the governments meeting in Paris, not just figuratively but literally.

“You have the opportunity, in fact the responsibility, to finalize an agreement that enables the achievement of national climate change goals, that delivers the necessary support for the developing world and that catalyses continuously increasing ambition and action by all,” she said.

Figueres said that the past year had been a turning point and that after many years of hard work, the world was finally seeing that the direction towards a low-carbon, resilient future was irreversible.

“This turning point is truly remarkable, but the task is not done," she continued. "It is up to you to both capture this progress and chart an unequivocal path forward, with a clear destination, agreed milestones and a predictable timeline that responds to the demands of science and the urgency of the challenge.”

On the eve of the COP21 conference, 184 countries covering around 95 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions had delivered their national climate action plans to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). These pledges constitute a good foundation, but are not enough to keep the world below the internationally agreed maximum global average temperature rise of 2 degrees Celsius.

COP21 President French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius called on governments to step up their efforts: “The stakes are too high, and the menace of climate change is too great for us to be content with a minimalistic agreement. The Heads of State and Government who have come to Paris have come to express the voice of ambition."

Ahead of the Paris meeting, thousands of companies and investors and thousands of mayors and regional governments announced their commitment to the essential economic and social transformation to low-carbon, sustainable growth and development.

Minister Fabius said the conference would serve to highlight the importance of non-state actors within the framework of the Lima-Paris Action Agenda.

During the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris the governments of France and Peru, along with the UN, are organizing a series of high-level events to demonstrate that the transition to low carbon and resilience is under way. Throughout the eight days of the LPAA, inspirational new commitments will be announced, in action areas ranging from forests and agriculture to clean energy and private finance for climate action.

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A volcano erupts on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island on Dec. 9, 2019. Michael Schade / Twitter

A powerful volcano on Monday rocked an uninhabited island frequented by tourists about 30 miles off New Zealand's coast. Authorities have confirmed that five people died. They expect that number to rise as some are missing and police officials issued a statement that flights around the islands revealed "no signs of life had been seen at any point,", as The Guardian reported.

"Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island," the police said in their official statement. "Police is working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died, further to the five confirmed deceased already."

The eruption happened on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island, an islet jutting out of the Bay of Plenty, off the country's North Island. The island is privately owned and is typically visited for day-trips by thousands of tourists every year, according to The New York Times.

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At the time of the eruption on Monday, about 50 passengers from the Ovation of Seas were on the island, including more than 30 who were part of a Royal Caribbean cruise trip, according to CNN. Twenty-three people, including the five dead, were evacuated from the island.

The eruption occurred at 2:11 pm local time on Monday, as footage from a crater camera owned and operated by GeoNet, New Zealand's geological hazards agency, shows. The camera also shows dozens of people walking near the rim as white smoke billows just before the eruption, according to Reuters.

Police were unable to reach the island because searing white ash posed imminent danger to rescue workers, said John Tims, New Zealand's deputy police commissioner, as he stood next to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a press conference, as The New York Times reported. Tims said rescue workers would assess the safety of approaching the island on Tuesday morning. "We know the urgency to go back to the island," he told reporters.

"The physical environment is unsafe for us to return to the island," Tims added, as CNN reported. "It's important that we consider the health and safety of rescuers, so we're taking advice from experts going forward."

Authorities have had no communication with anyone on the island. They are frantically working to identify how many people remain and who they are, according to CNN.

Geologists said the eruption is not unexpected and some questioned why the island is open to tourism.

"The volcano has been restless for a few weeks, resulting in the raising of the alert level, so that this eruption is not really a surprise," said Bill McGuire, emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, as The Guardian reported.

"White Island has been a disaster waiting to happen for many years," said Raymond Cas, emeritus professor at Monash University's school of earth, atmosphere and environment, as The Guardian reported. "Having visited it twice, I have always felt that it was too dangerous to allow the daily tour groups that visit the uninhabited island volcano by boat and helicopter."

The prime minister arrived Monday night in Whakatane, the town closest to the eruption, where day boats visiting the island are docked. Whakatane has a large Maori population.

Ardern met with local council leaders on Monday. She is scheduled to meet with search and rescue teams and will speak to the media at 7 a.m. local time (1 p.m. EST), after drones survey the island, as CNN reported.