POZNAN, Poland (Reuters) - The world must avoid a “cheap and dirty” fix for the economy that could undermine the fight against global warming, the U.N.’s top climate official said on Sunday.
Yvo de Boer said the world risked a second financial crisis if governments reacted to economic slowdown by building cheap, high-polluting coal-fired power plants that might then have to be scrapped as climate impacts hit.
“What concerns me most is that the financial crisis will lead to a second set of bad investment decisions,” he told a news conference before December 1-12 talks involving 186 nations working on a new climate treaty.
“I hope that the second financial crisis is not going to have its origins in bad energy loans,” he said.
Short-sighted investments could lead to a need to build new low-carbon solar or wind power plants in 10-20 years.
The Poznan talks are the half-way point in a two-year drive to work out a new climate pact by the end of 2009 in Copenhagen to succeed the Kyoto Protocol, which binds 37 industrial nations to cut greenhouse gas emissions until 2012.
De Boer said the economic slowdown was an opportunity to re-design the world economy.
“We must now focus on the opportunities for green growth that can put the global economy onto a stable and sustainable path,” he said.
It will be an “incredible challenge” to reach an agreement within just a year in Copenhagen and negotiators had to review what was achievable, he said. Talks are complicated by the change of U.S. President to Barack Obama in January 2009.
He said he would prefer a broad “ratifiable” deal with a “subsequent process of fleshing out the details.”
De Boer praised Obama’s goal of cutting U.S. greenhouse gas emissions back to 1990 levels by 2020 as “ambitious.” U.S. emissions are now 14 percent above 1990.
President George W. Bush did not ratify Kyoto, saying it would be too costly and excluded targets for developing nations such as China and India. Had Washington ratified, it would have had to cut by seven percent below 1990 levels by 2012.
“In a way I’m pretty happy with what he’s already committed to do,” de Boer said of Obama’s stated goals.
In Europe, by contrast, economic slowdown has exposed doubts about the costs of an EU goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions, mainly from fossil fuels, by 20 percent below 1990 levels by 2020.
U.N. host Poland, which gets 93 percent of its electricity from coal, and Italy are leading a drive for concessions in a package meant to be agreed at a December 11-12 summit of EU leaders in Brussels.
Prime Minister Donald Tusk will attend an opening ceremony of the U.N. climate talks on Monday.
The Poznan meeting will also look at details of a new climate treaty, based on an 84-page compilation of ideas on ways to slow rising temperatures that could bring more droughts, disease, floods and rising seas.
Plans include giving tropical nations credits for slowing deforestation from the Amazon to the Congo — trees soak up greenhouse gases. And China wants rich nations to give up to 1.0 percent of their gross national product in new climate aid.
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With extra reporting by Karin Jensen in Copenhagen, Editing by Dominic Evans and Angus MacSwan