With time running out before a December meeting in Copenhagen that is designed to seal an international climate change deal, the UN secretary general acknowledged he was looking to the summit of nearly 100 world leaders at the United Nations next Tuesday to break through the distrust between rich and poor countries.
“We are deeply concerned that the negotiation is not making much headway. It is absolutely and crucially important for the leaders to demonstrate their political will, leadership, and to give clear political guidelines to the negotiators. They should be responsible for the future of this entire humanity,” Mr Ban told this reporter.
Mr Ban, newly returned from a trip to the Arctic, sees action on climate change as his personal legacy as UN chief. He said he hoped the unprecedented size of the climate meeting, the high level of representation and an unconventional format would transform the talks.
“Have you ever seen any such international conference at the level of so many leaders coming at one time and one place? In any summit meeting you have not seen such a highly political, highly motivated meeting. That is where we have to find some political strength.” However, he admitted that even if the international community did reach a deal at Copenhagen, it might not live up to what scientists say is needed to prevent the worst consequences of global warming. “Science has already made its recommendations,” he said. “Science provides the facts. Then politicians take their choice.” The UN summit is at the centre of a high-level push — along with a meeting on Thursday of climate change negotiators in Washington and next week’s G20 in Pittsburgh — aimed at unblocking arguably the most contentious issue of the negotiations: financing from the developed world to help poorer countries adopt green technologies and protect their people from the consequences of global warming.
Mr Ban said the funding was a “moral responsibility” for industrialised nations. But countries have balked at the figures set by some developing world leaders.
Amid that stand-off, UN officials, diplomats and Democratic party leaders are saying that the gathering might well be the last chance before Copenhagen to reach an agreement on financing.
However, John Kerry, who chairs the US Senate foreign relations committee and has the tricky task of guiding domestic US climate laws through the Senate, said yesterday he was frustrated that the G20 would not be spending more time on climate change.
At the UN summit, Mr Ban is counting on round-table discussions, jointly chaired by leaders of eight rich and eight poor countries, to help break through resentments over how far the rich countries will go to cut their own carbon emissions (which have done the most to cause climate change) and to help poor countries, which stand to lose the most from rising temperatures and sea levels.
There are growing fears that African countries could walk out of the Copenhagen talks. But UN officials said they hoped to get leaders to give up fixed positions that have slowed down the negotiations.
Mr Ban is hoping to give industrialised countries another push with plans for Yukio Hatoyama, Japan’s prime minister, to confirm a promise to cut carbon emissions by 25% by 2020, a significant advance on his predecessor’s offer. UN officials are also hoping for a collective commitment on protecting forests from countries such as Brazil and Papua New Guinea .
Mr Ban acknowledged that the US, while moving ahead on climate change under Barack Obama, still had far to go in dealing with its own carbon emissions.