GENEVA (Reuters) - U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on Thursday for swifter work on a climate treaty, saying inaction could spell economic disaster and a rise in sea levels of up to 2 meters (6.5 ft) by 2100.
“We cannot afford limited progress. We need rapid progress,” he told a 155-nation climate conference in Geneva of negotiations on a new United Nations deal to combat global warming that is due to be agreed in December in Copenhagen.
“Climate change could spell widespread economic disaster,” Ban said, urging action to promote greener growth.
“By the end of this century, sea levels may rise between half a meter and two meters,” he said. That would threaten small island states, river deltas and cities such as Tokyo, New Orleans or Shanghai, he said.
His sea level projection is above the range of 18 to 59 cms (7-24 inches) given in 2007 by the U.N.’s own panel of experts. Their estimates did not include the possibility of an accelerated melt of vast ice sheets in Antarctica or Greenland.
Ban said greenhouse gas emissions, mainly from burning fossil fuels, were still rising fast. “Our foot is stuck on the accelerator and we are heading toward an abyss,” he said.
Just back from a trip to see thinning Arctic sea ice off Norway, Ban said he hoped a summit of world leaders he will host in New York on September 22 would give a new push to Copenhagen.
“I am really trying to raise a sense of urgency,” he told a news conference after speaking to an audience including about 20 leaders, mostly of developing nations such as Tanzania, Bangladesh and Mozambique, and ministers from up to 80 nations.
He reiterated calls for developed nations to agree “more ambitious” targets for cuts in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 than promised so far and more aid. Rich nations want clearer pledges from the poor that they will slow rising emissions.
“China faces enormous tasks in developing its economy, eradicating poverty and improving people’s livelihood, but it still attaches great importance to climate change,” Chinese Vice Premier Hui Liangyu said in a speech.
The Geneva August 31-September 4 conference, gathering about 1,500 delegates, also formally approved a new system to improve monitoring and early warning systems about the climate to help everyone from farmers to investors in renewable energies.
Delegates said the “Global Framework for Climate Services” would mainly help developing nations adapt to changes such as more floods, wildfires, droughts, rising seas or more disease.
Many Asian farmers, for instance, want to know how a projected thaw of Himalayan glaciers will disrupt water flows in rivers. Investors in wind farms can benefit from information on future wind patterns, rather than historical data.
The U.N.’s World Meteorological Organization (WMO) would set up a “task force” of advisers within four months who would then have a year to report back with proposals about how it would work in sectors such as health, energy and agriculture.
“For us, it is a success,” Michel Jarraud, head of the WMO, said of the conference.
Tanzania’s Vice President Ali Mohamed Shein said the impact of disasters, such as droughts or floods, could be averted with better information. He also said the snows of Mount Kilimanjaro would vanish in coming decades at current rates.
The Geneva talks are the third world climate conference. Meetings in 1979 and 1990 helped pave the way to a U.N. Climate Panel and a U.N. 1992 Climate Convention.
Additional reporting by Laura MacInnis; Editing by Diana Abdallah