IMAGE: U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon
Don Emmert  /  AFP/Getty Images
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon addresses students at the United Nations in New York on Monday, using the occasion for his first speech on global warming.
msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 3/1/2007 8:06:28 PM ET 2007-03-02T01:06:28

Human-induced global warming poses as much danger to the world as war, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Thursday as he urged the United States to take the lead in the fight against global warming.

In his first address on the subject at the U.N. General Assembly hall, Ban said he would emphasize the climate crisis with the leaders at a June meeting in Germany of the Group of Eight industrialized nations — Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Britain, the United States and Russia.

“The majority of the United Nations work still focuses on preventing and ending conflict,” Ban told an international U.N. school conference on global warming. “But the danger posed by war to all of humanity and to our planet is at least matched by the climate crisis and global warming.”

“In coming decades, changes in our environment and the resulting upheavals from droughts to inundated coastal areas to loss of arable land are likely to become a major driver of war and conflict,” said Ban, who became U.N. chief on Jan. 1.

Ban said the world needed a more coherent system of international environmental governance and that he hoped the United States would take the lead in looking toward the climate change fight beyond 2012 when the international Kyoto climate pact expires.

“I hope that United States, while they have taken their role in innovative technologies as well as promoting cleaner energies, will also take the lead in this very important and urgent issue,” Ban said.

Forecast for warmer century
Last month a U.N.-panel of 2,500 top climate scientists from more than 130 nations said mankind's carbon emissions are adding to the natural climate cycle, and predicted more droughts, heat waves and a slow rise in sea levels that could continue for more than 1,000 years even if those emissions were capped.

The panel’s report predicts a “best estimate” that temperatures would rise by between 3.2 and 7.8 Fahrenheit in the 21st century.

On Tuesday, a scientific panel reported to the United Nations that to head off the worst of climate change, governments must pour tens of billions of dollars more than they are into clean-energy research and enforce sharp rollbacks in fossil-fuel emissions.

The U.S. government's research spending, for one, should be "probably tripled or more," a panel leader said.

Ban has pledged to make climate change a top priority and said the United Nations is the natural arena to tackle the problem. He had considered a summit but his staff recently said this would not happen.

Instead the United Nations was preparing for a U.N. framework convention on climate change conference to be held in Bali, Indonesia, in December, Ban said.

The United States is the world’s top greenhouse gas emitter and accounts for about a quarter of the global total, ahead of China, Russia and India.

Thirty-five industrialized countries bound by the Kyoto treaty, which obliges average cuts in emissions of 5 percent below 1990 levels by 2008-12, account for just 30 percent of world emissions.

President  Bush pulled out of Kyoto in 2001, saying that it would damage the U.S. economy and unfairly set no targets for developing nations. But in January he acknowledged climate change as a “serious challenge.”

Gore documentary invoked
Ban said the success of the Oscar-winning documentary “An Inconvenient Truth,” inspired by former U.S. Vice President Al Gore’s environmental campaign, showed “even among the broader public climate change is no longer an inconvenient issue — it is an inescapable reality.”

“I am encouraged to know that in the industrialized countries from which leadership is most needed, awareness is growing,” he said adding that the cost of inaction or delayed action exceeded the short-term investment needed.

“The world needs a more coherent system of international environmental governance,” Ban said. “Unfortunately my generation has been somewhat careless in looking after our one and only planet but I am hopeful that is finally changing.”

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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