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World Leaders Gather in New York to Mull Climate Change Response
(U.N. summit mobilizes political momentum for ambitious Copenhagen deal)
Washington FILE    09/22/2009

By Cheryl Pellerin
Science Writer


Washington ? More than 100 world leaders gathered at the United Nations in New York on September 22 for a day of discussions that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon hopes will accelerate the pace of negotiations in advance of a December climate change conference in Copenhagen.

The leaders met as a countdown clock at the Web site of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) ticked down the days (75), hours (13), minutes (25) and seconds (43 and counting) to the 15th meeting of the UNFCCC conference December 7–18, where nations are scheduled to complete negotiations on a new agreement to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

Greenhouse gases like water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and others trap heat in the atmosphere. Without the greenhouse effect, Earth’s surface would be about 33 degrees Celsius (59 degrees Fahrenheit) colder than it is today. But excess greenhouse gas concentrations created by human activities like burning fossil fuels are responsible, scientists say, for warming the planet and changing the climate system.

An agreement reached in Copenhagen will go into effect in 2012, when the Kyoto Protocol, a UNFCCC amendment with legally binding greenhouse-gas-reduction commitments, expires.

“You have the power to chart a safer, more sustainable and prosperous course for this and future generations, the power to reduce the emissions that are causing climate change, to help the most vulnerable adapt to changes that are already under way, to catalyze a new era of global green growth,” Ban said in his opening remarks.

“Now,” he said, “is your moment to act.”

CONCRETE PROPOSALS

In his first address to the United Nations, President Obama said, “The United States has done more to promote clean energy and reduce carbon pollution in the last eight months than at any other time in our history.”

He described the nation’s investments in renewable energy that will double generating capacity from wind and other resources in three years, the first national policy aimed at increasing fuel economy and reducing greenhouse gas pollution, progress on the first offshore wind projects, and an energy and climate bill that was passed by the House of Representatives in June and is beginning to move through the Senate.

Internationally, he said, the United States in April convened the first of six meetings of the Major Economies Forum, proposed an Energy and Climate Partnership for the Americas, worked though the World Bank to promote renewable energy projects in the developing world, and put climate at the top of diplomatic agendas in relationships with China, Brazil, India, Mexico and others from Europe to Africa.

“Each of us must do what we can, when we can, to grow our economies without endangering our planet,” Obama said, “and we must all do it together. We must seize the opportunity to make Copenhagen a significant step forward in the global fight against climate change.”

In his address to the summit, Chinese President Hu Jintao said the international community should tackle global climate change through common development. In the years ahead, he added, China will intensify its effort to conserve energy and improve energy efficiency, attempting to cut carbon dioxide emissions “by a notable margin by 2020 from the 2005 level.”

China will develop renewable energy and nuclear energy, increasing alternative fuels in primary energy consumption to around 15 percent by 2020; increase forest coverage by 40 million hectares and forest stock volume by 1.3 billion cubic meters by 2020 from 2005 levels; and step up efforts to develop a low-carbon economy and develop climate-friendly technologies, Hu said.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy proposed that the major economies meet in mid-November to “transcend the role-playing, the empty speeches, the petty diplomatic gains to table concrete proposals” for Copenhagen, and that a single world environment organization be created during the December meeting.

Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed, Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, Rwandan President Paul Kagame, Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt and Costa Rican President Óscar Arias also spoke at the opening plenary session.

VOICES FROM YOUTUBE

The summit was not a traditional U.N. meeting, where heads of state make live opening statements as the summit begins. Instead, they were asked to send in opening video statements that are available at the U.N. Headquarters and on the U.N. television page on YouTube.

“Recognizing the right of poor countries to develop and to lift their people out of poverty, and to leave room for developing countries to grow, developed countries have committed to reducing their own emissions by at least 80 percent by 2050,” British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said in his video. “The next stage is to agree [to] a climate finance partnership that will help developing countries both adapt to climate change and to shift to low-carbon growth themselves.”

“Climate change is perhaps the most important challenge we face today,” Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said in his video. “It poses a threat not only to the environment but also to the global economy, international security and ultimately humanity. If we choose to ignore it, we would do so at our own peril and we would live to regret what we did not do for ourselves and for our children.”

Thailand will host more U.N. climate change talks in Bangkok, September 28-October 9.

“As a small island state continuously battered by the vagaries of hurricanes that repeatedly undermine its developmental gains,” said St. Kitts and Nevis Prime Minister Denzil Douglas, “St. Kitts and Nevis uses this medium to join once again in registering deepest concerns regarding the slow pace at which the global community is moving to address this issue.”

“It’s a complex issue, but the bottom line is simply stated,” said James Leape, director general of the World Wildlife Fund International. “Somehow we must ensure that global emissions peak and begin to decline in the next eight years. As world leaders, that must be your priority.”

“I will invite all heads of states and governments to engage in the process ahead with a view to concluding a political agreement in Copenhagen,” said Danish Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen. “That will be a proper answer to the call for action by science. That will be a proper answer to the call for clarity from industry. And that will be the proper answer to the call for responsibility from our citizens.”

More information about the U.N. Summit on Climate Change ( http://www.un.org/wcm/content/site/climatechange/lang/en/pages/2009summit ) is available at the U.N. Web site.

(This is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State.  Web site: http://www.america.gov)


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