Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Monday urged all countries to join forces with the private sector, civic groups and individuals around the world to take action to address climate change this year.
"If 2007 was the year when climate change rose to the top of the global agenda, 2008 is the time we must take concerted action," Ban said at the start of a two-day U.N. General Assembly debate to generate support for a new treaty by 2009 to fight global warming.
General Assembly President Srgjan Kerim invited U.N. member states, business and civic leaders, and government officials to the United Nations to follow up December's international climate conference on the Indonesian resort island of Bali. Delegates from nearly 190 nations agreed there to adopt a blueprint to control global warming gases before the end of next year.
"The conference delivered what it set out to do," Ban said. "Now the real work begins. The challenge is huge. We have less than two years to craft an agreement on action that measures up to what the science tells us."
"It will have to map out emission limitation commitments; agree essential action to adapt to the impacts of climate change: and mobilize the necessary financing and technological innovation," he said.
Ban called on governments, intergovernmental organizations, the private sector, civil society and individuals around the world to come together and adopt "a global, collective, inclusive and low-carbon approach to growth and development."
Kerim stressed that partnerships are essential because new technologies, renewable energies, and more research are essential to solve the problem.
Bloomberg 'not waiting'
Michael Bloomberg, New York's climate-activist mayor who attended the Bali conference, said in the keynote address that the world's cities, too, can help lead the way toward reducing global warming gases.
"Our experience in New York City and the experience of many other great cities can help guide that process," he said. "We are not waiting for others to act first."
Bloomberg called on the United States to set "real and binding" targets to reduce the greenhouse gases blamed for warming the planet, in contrast to the current U.S. strategy that largely relies on voluntary approaches and spending for research and technology.
"I believe that the American people are prepared for our responsibility to lead by example," he said.
Special guests at the climate debate include British billionaire Richard Branson, who has decided to invest heavily in "biofuels," and actress Daryl Hannah. Nearly 100 countries have signed up to speak and 20 are sending ministers, assembly spokesman Janos Tisovszky said Friday.
In key reports last year, a U.N. network of climate and other scientists warned of severe consequences — from rising seas, droughts, severe weather, species extinction and other effects — without sharp cutbacks in emissions of the industrial, transportation and agricultural gases blamed for global warming.
To avoid the worst, the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said greenhouse gas emissions should be reduced by 25 percent to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 — and by at least half by 2050.
The delegates in Bali were charged with launching negotiations to replace the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012. It requires 36 industrial nations to radically reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2012.
A new agreement needs to be adopted by the end of 2009 to ensure a smooth transition to a new post-Kyoto regime.
The two-day debate follows a recent report by the secretary-general which said global warming could cost the world up to $20 trillion over two decades for cleaner energy sources and do the most harm to people who can least afford to adapt.