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September 23, 2009

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World leaders under gun on climate change

THE highest-level conference yet on climate change opened yesterday with 100 world leaders gathering at the United Nations to try to jump-start stalled negotiations toward a global climate pact.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on presidents, prime ministers and other leaders "to accelerate the pace of negotiations and to strengthen the ambition of what is on offer" for a deal at Copenhagen, Denmark, in December.

"Failure to reach broad agreement in Copenhagen would be morally inexcusable, economically shortsighted and politically unwise," he warned. "The science demands it. The world economy needs it."

Much attention was fixed on US President Barack Obama's first UN speech, in which he said the United States is "determined to act."

"The threat from climate change is serious, it is urgent, and it is growing," Obama said. "And the time we have to reverse this tide is running out."

Time running out

"The journey is hard. And we don't have much time left to make it," Obama said.

Obama sought to show US resolve ahead of crucial talks in Copenhagen in December, when nations will try to reach a new global treaty to address climate change.

"We understand the gravity of the climate threat. We are determined to act," Obama said. "And we will meet our responsibility to future generations."

Obama has announced a target of returning to 1990 levels of greenhouse emissions by 2020.

The UN summit and the Group of 20 nations summit in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, later this week seek to add pressure on rich nations to commit to greenhouse gas cuts and to pay for poorer nations to burn less coal and preserve their forests.

Heat waves, droughts, melting glaciers, loss of the Greenland ice sheet and other dangers are fast approaching, said Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that shared the Nobel Peace Prize with former US Vice President Al Gore in 2007.

Focus on US

"The science leaves us with no room for inaction now," he said.

India, too, was expected to lay out plans for the fifth-biggest contributor of global warming gases to bump up fuel efficiency, burn coal more cleanly, preserve forests and grow more organic crops.

"The crisis today on climate change is the inability of the United States to put on the table credible emissions reduction targets for 2020," said Jairam Ramesh, India's environment minister.

The EU is urging other rich countries to match its pledge to reduce emissions by 20 percent from 1990 levels by 2020 and has said it would cut up to 30 percent if other rich countries follow suit.

The Japanese prime minister, whose nation generates more than 4 percent of the world's greenhouse gases, said his nation will seek a 25 percent cut in greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels by 2020.

"I will now seek to unite our efforts to address current and future climate change with due consideration of the role of science," Yukio Hatoyama said.


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