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SUMMIT-U.S. public opinion may unlock climate treaty-WWF
September 8, 2009 / 1:08 PM / 8 years ago

SUMMIT-U.S. public opinion may unlock climate treaty-WWF

* WWF boss says climate treaty commitments falling short

* Efforts to rally U.S. opinion in favour of Copenhagen deal

* Says huge investor potential in shift from carbon energy

(For other news from the Reuters Global Climate and Alternative Energy Summit, click here)

By Laura MacInnis

GENEVA, Sept 8 (Reuters) - U.S. public support could set the tone for an international climate treaty that depends on a strong push from President Barack Obama's administration to succeed, the head of WWF International said on Tuesday.

James Leape told the Reuters Global Climate and Alternative Energy Summit the deal to be agreed three months from now in Copenhagen remained too watered-down to make a difference in the fight against global warming.

"We are not yet on the track that we need to be on for Copenhagen, by a long shot. We are not yet seeing countries make the commitments we need to see," the U.S. national said, speaking by telephone from Sweden.

While he said the call from Japan's prime minister-elect for a 25 percent emissions cut by 2020 [ID:nT38860] was "certainly encouraging," Leape stressed that industrialised countries as a group needed to agree to a 40 percent cut by that date for the Copenhagen deal to have real impact.

Political challenges to the White House on health care and other issues should not prevent it from taking the leadership role in climate that Obama has pledged to do, which is vital to other top economies getting in line, Leape said.

"What happens in the U.S. is of singular importance in this process," he said. "Many other countries are hiding behind the U.S. at this point, not stepping forward to stronger commitments until they see what the U.S. does."

WWF and its allies are working to mobilise support in pivotal U.S. states to impress upon Washington the need to commit to "significant" carbon cuts as well as funding to help industries and families shift to greener technologies.

"A large majority of the American public recognises the need for action on climate and their voice needs to be heard," said Leape, who has headed the World Wildlife Fund since late 2005.


Many clean-energy technologies could develop into major growth industries and job generators if the solar, wind and renewable power sectors get needed incentives from a political deal in Copenhagen, he said.

"The possibilities are just huge," said the WWF boss, who admitted he bought an electric car 13 years ago -- "I was a little too far ahead of the curve, let's put it that way" -- and now drives a hybrid Toyota (7203.T) Prius.

He said grassroots activities like "Earth Hour," when millions of people turned off their lights, and the "Vote Earth" Internet campaign were helping people to express their concerns about climate change, which U.N. scientists warn will threaten coastal areas and disrupt global weather patterns.

The issue needs to be tackled by heads of state for the new deal -- a successor to the Kyoto Protocol -- in recognition of its huge significance to agriculture, trade, real estate and a host of other sectors, Leape said.

"This is the biggest challenge we have ever faced, and it will require a level of global cooperation and global response that we have never before had to muster," he said.

"The scientific consensus is that we are headed into big trouble," he said. He said a fast thaw of Arctic sea ice in summer indicated that the impacts of climate change were worse than predicted by a U.N. panel of scientists just two years ago.

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