François Hollande calls for ‘miracle’ climate agreement at Paris talks

French president says role of businesses will be key to the success of any emissions agreement reached by world’s nations at crunch climate change talks at the end of this year

François Hollande, president of France, has called for a “miracle” to happen later this year at a crunch climate change conference in Paris, saying this would be needed for a compromise to be reached on the future of limiting greenhouse gases that would involve both developed and developing countries.

He urged all countries to come up with commitments on limiting greenhouse gas emissions, ahead of the signing of a new global agreement by world governments later this year in Paris.

He ruefully acknowledged the difficulty of coming up with such an agreement. “We must have a consensus. If within our own country, that’s difficult, imagine what it’s like with 196 countries. A miracle!” He added he was confident it could be achieved.

For any agreement to work, he said, the role of businesses would be “key”. Invoking the foundation of the French republic, he said: “We need a revolution in business.”

President Hollande talked of the need for carbon sequestration, developing new clean technologies, and finding ways to be more energy efficient.

Business leaders from across the world, meeting in Paris for a preparatory conference before the UN convenes later this year, congratulated the French president and called for a strong international agreement on the climate.

But there were clear signs that a compromise will be hard to reach. The chief executive of Statoil, Elder Saetre, said a carbon price was needed to encourage companies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But, as one of the few fossil fuel companies represented, he also vowed that his company, and others, would be producing oil and gas “for a long time”.

His views echoed those expressed by other fossil fuel companies, which have told the Guardian and their shareholders that they would continue to produce carbon-generating products for decades to come.

Businesses were meeting, under the auspices of the French government, to set out their aims ahead of the global conference in Paris this December, at which governments are to set out their commitments to limit greenhouse gas emissions beyond 2020, when current commitments run out.

This is seen as a crunch conference, because it will lay out the world’s response to climate change for decades to come, and could determine whether the world avoids the worst ravages of global warming, which are already being felt. On current projections, climate change could become irreversible and catastrophic if global emissions are not drastically cut.

Angel Gurria, the head of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) said that the proposals on emissions so far set out by governments would not be sufficient to protect the world from warming of more than 2C above pre-industrial levels, the internationally-set benchmark for avoiding dangerous levels of climate change. “We are on a collision course with nature,” he warned.

Outside the conference, protestors called for businesses to be banned from the COP in Paris this December, calling oil companies in particular “part of the problem, not the solution”.

That sentiment was echoed by some participants. Peder Holk Nielsen, chief executive of Novozymes, a company that manufactures enzymes and has interests in biofuels, said: “Let’s be very clear on this. The oil companies will not help the world to switch to renewable energy – that will never happen. They are part of a system that protects the business they have. The only way the world gets more renewables is if bold politicians step up to it and mandate.”

Paul Polman, chief executive of Unilever, called on governments to set clear targets on emissions that he said would force companies to innovate to meet them. Pierre-André de Chalendar, chief executive of Saint-Gobain, told the conference the “best solution” to climate change was energy efficiency.

Christiana Figueres, the UN’s climate chief, who is coordinating the Paris conference, said that businesses should not be demonised. “It is not a question of demonising [companies],” she said. “In my book, this is not about confrontation. Quite to the contrary. This is about collaboration. If you’re thinking about confrontation, forget it! Because we’re not going to get there.”

But she also said: “We must be clear – there is no space for any new coal.”

She said: “The science is clear – global emissions need to swiftly peak as a prelude to a deep de-carbonisation of the global economy by the second half of the century. Many businesses know this and are planning for that future. It is time for the rest to come on board.”