U.N. chief sees commitment to climate change

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said a one-day high-level meeting on climate change on Monday was a turning point in the battle against global warming.

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (bottom C at podium) addresses the United Nations High-level Event on Climate Change at the United Nations General Assembly, in New York, September 24, 2007. REUTERS/Chip East

“What I heard today is a major political commitment for a breakthrough in climate change in Bali,” Ban said.

A meeting scheduled in Bali, Indonesia, for December is aimed at jump-starting talks to find a successor to the Kyoto Protocol, which seeks to curb climate-warming emissions.

“Science has spoken clearly,” Ban said at a final news conference. “Now we need a political answer.”

Calling Monday’s gathering a “sea change in the response to climate change,” Ban acknowledged that negotiations that will begin in Bali may be a long, difficult process.

Asked specifically what would happen if U.S. President George W. Bush continued to oppose mandatory limits on greenhouse gas emissions in favour of voluntary ones, Ban replied, “I have high expectations of all countries, including ... the United States.”

Bush did not attend the climate meeting but dined later with Ban and representatives from countries that emit the most greenhouse gases, as well as those countries most at risk from climate change.

Before the dinner, Bush said he had discussed the issue with Brazilian President Luiz Ignacio Lula da Silva and that he had agreed to attend a Washington meeting of the biggest emitting countries on Thursday and Friday.

“I assured the president (Lula) that the event we’re having in Washington -- which he kindly is coming to -- is an important meeting about reaching international consensus on how to move together on the issue of climate change,” Bush said.

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Earlier, former U.S. Vice President Al Gore said the planet would be better off if people cared more about global warming and less about O.J. Simpson and Paris Hilton.

Gore, the star of the Oscar-winning film “An Inconvenient Truth,” joined the head of the United Nations and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to urge quick global action to stem emissions that heat the Earth.


But Gore drew applause when he mentioned the seeming U.S. fascination with recent well-publicized scandals.

“We have to overcome the paralysis that has prevented us from acting and focus clearly and unblinkingly on this world crisis, rather than spending time on Anna Nicole Smith and O.J. Simpson and Paris Hilton,” Gore said.

The session was meant to gather momentum for the meeting in Bali.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice represented the United States at the climate meeting, urging a technology revolution to combat global warming.

“Put simply, the world needs a technological revolution,” Rice said. “Existing energy technologies alone will not meet the global demand for energy while also reducing emissions to necessary levels.”

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Lo Sze Ping of the environmental group Greenpeace China sounded a similar note but took aim at inertia by some rich countries on setting targets for curbing greenhouse gases.

China’s national climate change program commits China -- considered in at least one study to be the world’s biggest emitter of climate-warming pollution -- to binding targets for renewable energy and energy efficiency, Lo said.

These targets, Lo said, are “stronger and more ambitious than in certain industrialized countries.”

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, representing countries that emit 15 percent of the world’s climate-warming carbon dioxide, told Reuters: “We can succeed only if we have the United States with us.”

Bush has rejected the Kyoto Protocol, which requires 36 industrial nations to cut greenhouse emissions by at least 5 percent from 1990 levels by 2012, when it expires.

He contends the accord unfairly burdens rich countries while exempting developing countries like China and India and that it will cost U.S. jobs.

Additional reporting by Jeff Mason, Tim Gardner, Phillip Pulella and Paul Eckert