U.N. Chief Wants Obama at Climate-Change Summit

By Colum Lynch
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 10, 2009

UNITED NATIONS, Feb. 9 -- U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has appealed to President Obama to attend a hastily planned summit here in late March to promote international efforts to stem the pace of climate change, according to senior U.N. officials and delegates.

The U.N. chief is hoping to harness the new president's popularity to press for action to reduce carbon emissions before the world's leading economic powers -- known as the Group of 20 -- meet in London on April 2 to tackle the global financial crisis, according to the officials.

U.N. officials are concerned that the world's richest countries, including the United States, may withhold funding for environmentally friendly programs -- including a renewable-energy initiative -- because of the financial crisis. "We want to make sure the G-20 don't forget the poor and don't forget green," said a senior U.N. official.

But Obama has made no commitment to attend the meeting, according to U.S. officials. And the U.N. chief is planning to shelve the event if the American leader cannot come, according to U.N. diplomats.

Ban has said that climate change is one of the most serious crises he expects to face during his five-year term. He will press the United States and other industrial powers to agree to major reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases at an international conference in Copenhagen at the end of the year.

Ban and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown began asking the United States and other key governments at Davos, Switzerland, to attend a New York summit on climate change. The United Nations has also begun privately urging some of the developing world's largest polluters, China and India, to attend. The United Nations, however, will not send out official invitations unless Obama commits, according to a senior U.N. official.

A U.N. spokeswoman, Marie Okabe, declined to comment on the proposed summit, which was first reported Monday by the Reuters news service. But she said Ban is exploring various ways to encourage "high-level engagement" on climate change in the months leading up to the Copenhagen conference. She said Ban would also try to bring together world leaders for a summit on climate change in September, on the sidelines of the annual debate of the U.N. General Assembly.

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