Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Obama makes impassioned climate plea

US President Barack Obama has told a UN climate change meeting in New York that the problem is growing faster than the world's efforts to address it.

He said that children in the world should not be subjected to a future that is beyond their capacity to fix.

It is the biggest high-level gathering to discuss climate change since 2009.

The aim of the meeting is to galvanise 120 member states to sign up to a comprehensive new global climate agreement at talks in Paris next year.

'There should be no question that the United States of America is stepping up to the plate,' Mr Obama said.

'We recognise our role in creating this problem, we embrace our responsibility to combat it.

'We will do our part and we will help developing nations do theirs; but we can only succeed in combating climate change if we are joined in this effort by every nation - developed and developing alike.'

The president said the 'urgent and growing threat of climate change' would ultimately 'define the contours of this century more dramatically than any other' issue.

'We know what we have to do to avoid irreparable harm. We have to cut carbon pollution in our own countries to prevent the worst effects of climate change,' he said.

'This time we need an agreement that reflects economic realities in the next decade and beyond.

'It must be ambitious because that's what the scale of this challenge demands.'

The president said that before making his speech he had spoken to Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli, and they had agreed that the world's two biggest emitters 'have a responsibility to lead'.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon made an equally impassioned plea to leaders and representatives from 120 countries to take the lead in the battle against climate change at the summit.

'Today, we must set the world on a new course,' Mr Ban said at the opening.

He called for a lowering of greenhouse gas emissions, and insisted that by the end of the century the world must be carbon-neutral.

He described global warming as the 'defining issue of our age'.

'Climate change threatens hard-won peace, prosperity, and opportunity for billions of people,' Mr Ban said. 'We are not here to talk. We are here to make history.'

Mr Ban was joined at the opening by former US Vice President and climate campaigner Al Gore, Hollywood star Leonardo DiCaprio, Chinese actress Li Bingbing and Rajendra Pachauri, head of the UN climate panel, which won the Nobel peace prize in 2007.

Correspondents say that meaningful new commitments to reduce carbon emissions have not so far been forthcoming.

However France's President Hollande has promised $982m (£600m) to help poor nations cope with the effects of rising temperatures, while Norway has pledged $147m (£90m) to Liberia to end deforestation by 2020.

British Prime Minister David Cameron, for his part, argued that he had 'kept that promise' to run the 'greenest government ever'.

With so many nations attending the summit at the UN headquarters and so little time at the one-day meeting, three separate sessions ran simultaneously on Tuesday in three different rooms.

The BBC's Nick Bryant in New York says that the real bargaining on climate change is expected to take place at a private dinner on Tuesday evening, hosted by Mr Ban and attended by a select list of 20 or so countries.

But the absence of the leaders of China, Russia and India - whose Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrives later in the week - does not augur well, our correspondent says.

Mr Obama is eager to generate international support for the battle against climate change, as time runs out on his desire to leave an environmental legacy.

But correspondents say he faces numerous obstacles - including a Congress unwilling to curtail greenhouse gas emissions, let alone ratify an international agreement.

Mr Obama's last meeting with heads of state in order to reach a climate deal in Copenhagen five years ago ended in disappointment, with member countries failing to agree on a timetable to reduce long-term emissions.