U.N. Chief Calls for 'Real Breakthrough' On Climate Change

By Colum Lynch
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 25, 2007

UNITED NATIONS, Sept. 24 -- U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said Monday that a 15-year international effort to stem global warming has not halted the buildup of greenhouse gas emissions and that governments must take "unprecedented action" to reverse the trend.

"Today, the time for doubt has passed," Ban told delegates at a U.N. conference on climate change that brought together more than 80 heads of state, former vice president Al Gore and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Ban organized Monday's meeting to build political momentum for negotiations set for December in Bali, Indonesia, on a new treaty, which is expected to impose deep cuts on emissions of heat-trapping gases by industrial powers.

Ban stressed the urgency of reaching agreement on a plan of action that would replace the world's principal climate accord, the Kyoto Protocol. The agreement, which the Bush administration opposes, expires at the end of 2012.

"Our goal must be nothing short of a real breakthrough," Ban said. "Inaction now will prove the costliest action of all in the long term."

Ban called on industrialized powers to show greater leadership in cutting emissions and said that poor countries will require incentives to lower emission levels "without sacrificing economic growth or poverty reduction." Although Ban did not outline a specific proposal for emission caps, a senior U.N. adviser said Ban believes a legally binding limit on industrial emissions is essential.

Monday's event brought together Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other representatives of the world's largest industrial polluters, along with envoys from some of the poorest and most vulnerable states, including small island nations that demanded financial relief from the United States and other countries.

President Bush, a fierce opponent of industrial emissions caps, agreed to discuss climate change at a dinner hosted by Ban on Monday. Bush has scheduled a meeting on Thursday and Friday in Washington with the world's 16 "major emitters," including China and India, to try to coordinate a common response to global warming. U.N. diplomats and environmental experts think Bush will use the event to press for a voluntary approach to global warming.

Rice told the delegates Monday that the U.S. meetings will "support and help advance" the U.N. discussions. "We believe the U.N. climate process is the appropriate forum for negotiating future global action on climate change," she said.

But Bush's position appeared out of step with the spirit of an event that featured calls by Japanese and European political leaders for deep cuts in emissions.

"Let us together set objectives for reducing greenhouse gas emissions," said French President Nicolas Sarkozy, noting that the European Union is committed to a 50 percent reduction in global greenhouse gases from 1990 levels by 2050. "Failure to act would mean going beyond the point of no return."

Schwarzenegger said his state is following Europeans' example. "California is moving the United States beyond debate and doubt to action," he said. "It is time we came together in a new international agreement that can be embraced by rich and poor nations alike."

The appearance of so many world leaders at the event demonstrated that the international community intends to "proceed with the U.N.'s binding treaty negotiations almost regardless of what the administration does," said Philip Clapp, head of the National Environmental Trust. "The president is not only rapidly becoming a lame duck domestically but internationally as well."

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