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Climate Change Tops Talks At UN Meeting

  • Nikola Krastev

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

UNITED NATIONS -- A record number of world leaders were expected to participate in a meeting on climate change at the United Nations headquarters aimed at mobilizing the political will needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and tackle the challenges of rising world temperatures.

The New York gathering is the final major meeting on climate change before an international conference in Copenhagen in December.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has made climate change a centerpiece of his agenda since taking the helm of the world body in 2007, and he's using this second week of the 64th session of the General Assembly to try and galvanize global action on the issue.

"No issue better demonstrates the need for global solidarity, no challenge so powerfully compels us to widen our horizon," said Ban, who has invited representatives from more than 140 countries.

"The summit on September 22 on climate change will be the largest ever gathering of heads of states and governments on climate change. The proposal is to focus minds and generate action."

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, speaking in New York on September 21, noted the difficulties attendees face in determining a common approach on climate change.

"In a negotiation as difficult and complex as this, don't make the best the enemy of the good," Blair said. "This is not about fixating on this percentage or that percentage. It is about getting a global agreement that sets the world on a new low carbon path to the future."

However, Blair added: "There is a way. I think there is a will."

Most countries appear to be of the view that the problem of climate change is man-made and requires a coordinated effort on a global scale, although some seeing it as natural phenomena only minimally affected by human activities and industrial output.

More Credibility?

What makes this meeting remarkable is that both U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao will participate.

China and the U.S. are the world's top producers of greenhouse-gas emissions -- together, they produce 40 percent of the world's total.

Greenhouse-gas emissions and the depletion of the atmosphere's ozone layer are seen as major factors in rising temperatures and melting of the polar ice caps.

Tackling climate change has been an elusive goal for years. As is often the case at the UN, national interests are stronger than the collective will: the less wealthy member states seek subsidies while the richer ones are reluctant to set limits on their industrial activities.

The meeting in New York is not aimed at securing binding agreements, but rather carries the hope that world leaders will have a candid discussion and might agree on the perils of inaction. That, in turn, could give negotiators a basis on which to finalize a treaty that can be signed at the Copenhagen Climate Conference in December.

'Faster Than We Realized'

Ban is warning that time is running out and urgent political action is needed.

"Climate change is happening much faster than we realized," Ban said. "Our summit is about building the bridge to Copenhagen. We want world leaders to show [that] they understand the gravity of climate risk as well as the benefits of acting now."

This summer, the EU committed to spending $15 billion annually for the next decade to help developing nations cope with the challenges of climate change and adapt their economies to be less polluting. Washington's offers of assistance are nowhere near that level.

The Europeans are also insisting that developed nations adopt binding limits on how much greenhouse gas they produce.

The EU has set a target of 20 percent reduction of the 1990 levels by 2020.

Under President George W. Bush, the United States rejected that proposal because it did not include limits on emissions from China and India, both of which are major pollutants. The Obama administration appears to be more willing to discuss the issue.

The presence at this UN gathering of both China and the United States lends the event more credibility than previous meetings have had.

Late on September 21, senior Chinese officials signaled that Hu would outline the plan in an "important speech" at the gathering. Reports say he will unveil a "carbon-intensity" target for China.

Ban is urging the two nations to try and reach a consensus, which he believes will bring other nations on board.

"We want them to publicly commit to sealing a deal in Copenhagen, and we want them to give their negotiating teams marching orders to accelerate progress toward a fair, effective, comprehensive, and scientifically ambitious global climate agreement," Ban said.

Among the leaders at the summit will be the presidents of the Czech Republic, Georgia, France, Macedonia, Serbia, and Tajikistan, and the prime ministers of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Turkey, and the United Kingdom.

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