Obama warns of tough road on climate

Leaders of about 100 nations met on Tuesday to breathe new life into deadlocked climate change negotiations, but United States President Barack Obama warned not to expect a “perfect” deal.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called the biggest-ever summit on climate change about 100 days before a high-stakes conference in Copenhagen, which is meant to seal the framework of a successor to the landmark Kyoto Protocol.

“Failure to reach broad agreement in Copenhagen would be morally inexcusable, economically short-sighted and politically unwise,” the UN boss said.

Ban pointed to worst-case scenarios of UN scientists, who say that the world has only 10 years to reverse the course of climate change which would put at risk entire species and worsen natural disasters.

Obama, who has sharply reversed US policy with his determination to fight climate change, took the UN podium for the first time in his nine-month-old presidency to declare that global warming was a top priority.

“We are determined to act. And we will meet our responsibility to future generations,” Obama said.

But Obama insisted that developing nations also take action to curb carbon emissions blamed for global warming — and warned that a tough road lay ahead as the world emerges from its worst economic crisis in decades.

“All of us will face doubts and difficulties in our own capitals as we try to reach a lasting solution to the climate challenge,” Obama said.

“Unease is no excuse for inaction. And we must not allow the perfect to become the enemy of progress,” he said.

“Each of us must do what we can when we can to grow our economies without endangering our planet — and we must all do it together.”

Under Obama, the House of Representatives approved the first-ever mandatory national US cuts in carbon emissions. But the measure only squeaked through and still awaits Senate action.

Former US president George Bush — breaking with the leaders of virtually all other rich nations — refused to take part in the Kyoto Protocol, calling it unfair by not requiring emission cuts by emerging powers.

“Yes, the developed nations that caused much of the damage to our climate over the last century still have a responsibility to lead. And we will continue to do so,” Obama said.

“But those rapidly growing developing nations that will produce nearly all the growth in global carbon emissions in the decades ahead must do their part as well,” he said.

Obama was expected to receive a response from President Hu Jintao of China, which according to some measures has surpassed the US as the top emitter of greenhouse gases.

Chinese officials have spent recent days in private talks billing Hu’s address as a major announcement.

UN climate chief Yvo de Boer said he was advised that China would make “an ambitious” statement at the summit.

“This policy will make China become the world leader on climate change,” De Boer told a small group of reporters.

“I have very high expectations on what President Hu will be announcing,” he said, explaining that the measures will “take Chinese emissions very significantly away from where they would have been without a climate policy”.

China, along with other developing nations such as India, has long resisted committing to any cuts in greenhouse gases, arguing that rich nations bear historical responsibility.

Also raising hopes of environmentalists, Japan’s new Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama is set to make his debut on the world stage at the UN General Assembly.

Hatoyama has said his centre-left government will commit to cutting emissions by 25% from 1990 levels by 2020, compared with previous premier Taro Aso’s 8% goal. — AFP

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Shaun Tandon
Shaun Tandon
State Department correspondent @AFP. Formerly covering Japan, India

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