EXCLUSIVE-UN's Ban hopes Obama to star at climate summit

UNITED NATIONS, Feb 9 (Reuters) - U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is organizing a summit meeting on climate change next month where he hopes President Barack Obama will confirm a "sea change" in U.S. environment policy, diplomats said.

Several national diplomats and U.N. officials said they were aware of Ban's plan to invite Obama and the leaders of up to several dozen other countries to New York in late March for what they described as a "mini summit" on climate change ahead of high-level talks on the global financial crisis in London.

"If it happens, this would be Obama's debut appearance at the United Nations," a U.N. diplomat said on condition of anonymity. "It would also send a strong signal if he comes and uses the occasion to show the world that he wants a sea change by reversing the environmental policies of (President) Bush."

U.N. officials said Obama had yet to confirm attendance at the summit, which Ban hopes will include "big polluters" like China, India, the United States and other large economies. U.S. officials said Obama had not yet decided whether to attend.

Ban expressed concerns that the financial crisis, which has hit the world's wealthiest nations hard, could cause countries to hold off on investments aimed at fighting global warming.

That, diplomats say, is why he wants to hold climate change talks ahead of an April 2 London summit of wealthy countries and key developing nations on the global financial crisis.

In contrast to former President George W. Bush, who rejected the Kyoto Protocol that set binding targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, Obama backs mandatory emission reductions and has vowed to lead the world in combating global warming.


U.N. officials say they hope a climate meeting in Copenhagen at the end of this year will result in an agreement on a long-term goal to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 50 percent by 2050. Obama's support and leadership ahead of that meeting will be crucial, they say.

"The mini summit would be an opportunity for Obama to confirm for the world that the climate is at the top of his agenda," a European diplomat said. "We need that if Copenhagen is to be a success."

Copenhagen is due to set short-term goals, likely for 2020, for rich nations to cut greenhouse gas emissions as well as targets for developing nations to slow emissions growth.

There will also be a second U.N. climate meeting with wider attendance and closer to the Copenhagen summit on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in September.

U.N. officials are optimistic that Obama's stated commitment to preserving the environment is not mere rhetoric, as demonstrated by his choice of retired General James Jones as his national security adviser.

Last year, Jones oversaw the creation of what was dubbed the "Blueprint for Securing America's Energy Future" at the Institute for 21st Century Energy, a U.S. Chamber of Commerce think-tank that Jones had headed.

The blueprint, which U.N. officials say they took notice of, called for greater investment in renewable energy sources such as wind, solar, waste and biofuels.

"Obama has made energy and climate change a security issue," said one U.N. official. "That says a lot." (Editing by Jackie Frank)