With tales of rising seas and talk of human solidarity, world leaders at the first United Nations climate summit sought Monday to put new urgency into global talks to reduce global-warming emissions.
What’s needed is “action, action, action,” California’s environmentalist governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, told the assembled presidents and premiers.
The Bush administration showed no sign, however, that it would reverse its stand against mandatory emission cuts endorsed by 175 other nations. Some expressed fears the White House, with its own forum later this week, would launch talks rivaling the U.N. climate treaty negotiations.
President Bush didn’t take part in the day’s sessions, which drew more than 80 national leaders, but attended a small dinner Monday evening, a gathering of key climate players hosted by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
Ban set the day’s theme in his opening address, declaring that “the time for doubt has passed” on the issue of global warming. At the day’s end, he said he believed the scores of speeches showed a “major political commitment” to success in the global talks.
Throughout, in remarks clearly aimed at Washington, the U.N. chief described the U.N. negotiating umbrella as “the only forum” where the issues can be decided.
Ban organized the one-day summit to build momentum for December’s annual climate treaty conference in Bali, Indonesia, when Europe, Japan and others hope to initiate talks for an emissions-reduction agreement to succeed the Kyoto Protocol in 2012.
The 175-nation Kyoto pact, which the U.S. rejects, requires 36 industrial nations to reduce carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases. It set an average target of a 5 percent cut below 1990 levels by 2012 for emissions from power plants and other industrial, agricultural and transportation sources.
Advocates for emissions reductions say a breakthrough is needed at Bali to ensure an uninterrupted transition from the 1997 Kyoto pact to a new, deeper-cutting regime, something that almost certainly would require a change in the U.S. position.
The chief U.N. climate scientist, Rajendra Pachauri, told the summit of the mounting evidence of global warming’s impact, including the accelerating rise in sea levels as oceans expand from heat and the runoff of melting land ice.
“The time is up for inaction,” he said.
A Pacific islander, President Emanuel Mori of the Federated States of Micronesia, told the summit that encroaching seas are already destroying crops, contaminating wells and eating away at his islands’ beaches.
“How does one explain to the inhabitants that their plight is caused by human activities done in faraway lands?” he asked.
The United States has long been the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases.
Bush objects that Kyoto-style mandates would damage the U.S. economy and says they should be imposed on fast-growing poorer countries like China and India in addition to developed nations. He instead is urging industry to cut emissions voluntarily and is emphasizing research on clean-energy technology as one answer.
On Thursday and Friday, Bush will host his own Washington climate meeting, limited to 16 “major emitter” countries, including China and India, the first in a series of U.S.-led gatherings expected to focus on those themes.
“The Washington meeting is a distraction,” Hans Verolme, climate campaigner for the Worldwide Fund for Nature, told reporters. U.S. leaders “need to show they are serious and implement domestic legislation to reduce emissions,” he said.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, speaking at the summit, put the Washington meetings in a different light, describing them as designed “to support and help advance the ongoing U.N. discussion.”
Late Monday, U.N. chief Ban was asked by reporters about Bush’s position during the dinner discussions. “He made it quite clear that what he’s going to do is help the United Nations effort,” he replied.
Japan’s envoy, former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, said Tokyo believes the separate U.S. talks will “contribute to achieving consensus” in the U.N. process, in which all agree that China, India and others must eventually accept emission limits. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the Washington sessions show “the Americans are back in the climate process.”
But Japan and others, to one degree or another, stressed that all nations — including the United States — must accept emission targets.
To try to spur global negotiations, the European Union, which must reduce emissions by 8 percent under Kyoto, has committed to a further reduction of at least 20 percent by 2020.
Speaking for the EU, French President Nicolas Sarkozy told Monday’s summit that “all the developed countries and the largest emitters” must commit to a 50 percent reduction by 2050. He also said the U.N. negotiating process is the only “efficient and legitimate framework.”
Schwarzenegger told delegates that U.S. states are embracing emissions caps even if the Bush administration isn’t. California’s Republican governor and Democrat-led legislature have approved a law requiring the state’s industries to reduce greenhouse gases by an estimated 25 percent by 2020.
‘Changing the dynamic’
“California is moving the United States beyond debate and doubt to action,” Schwarzenegger said. “What we are doing is changing the dynamic.”
In a summit luncheon speech, former Vice President Al Gore, a leading climate campaigner, painted a dire picture of changes already under way because of global warming, including last week’s scientific report that the Arctic ice cap this summer shrank to a record-small size.
“We cannot continue a slow pace,” Gore said, proposing that heads of state meet every three months beginning in 2008 to ensure the world is doing all it can to meet the threat.