UN urges ambitious climate change deal


The biggest climate talks in history must deliver an ambitious, sweeping agreement to capitalise on pledges by countries to fight global warming, the United Nations said tonight.

On the eve of the formal start of the two-week talks in the Danish capital, the UN climate chief said time was up to agree on the outlines of a tougher climate deal after troubled negotiations have deepened splits between rich and poor countries.

"I believe that negotiators now have the clearest signal ever from world leaders to draft a solid set of proposals to implement rapid action," Yvo de Boer told reporters.

"Never in the 17 years of climate change negotiations have so many different nations made so many firm pledges together. Almost every day countries announce new targets or plans of action to cut emissions," he said.

Much is at stake at Copenhagen. Scientists say the world is heating up because of greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels and massive deforestation.

The United Nations says the world needs a tougher climate pact to brake rapidly rising carbon pollution. Failure to do so would mean triggering dangerous climate change such as rising seas, melting ice caps and greater weather extremes that could disrupt economies and force millions to become climate refugees.

In a show of support, 105 world leaders have said they will attend the talks' closing stages to try to seal a deal after years of bitter debates over how to divide up the burden of emissions curbs and who should pay.

Poor countries say developed nations have grown rich by fuelling their economies with coal, oil and gas and that they are most responsible for the bulk of the greenhouse gas pollution in the atmosphere.

Yet developing countries now emit more than half of mankind's greenhouse gas emissions. The United Nations says all countries must play their part in stemming the rise of pollution.

Japan said today it would stick with its target to cut emissions by 25 per cent from 1990 levels by 2020 during the talks, although the target is contingent on all major emitters, such as China and the United States, being ambitious.

In recent weeks, China, India, Indonesia and other countries have announced emissions reduction pledges, boosting hopes of success in Copenhagen.

Curbs on emissions pledged to date meant the world was within striking distance of a deal to cut greenhouse gases to a level that would avoid the worst effects of global warming, a report said today. "With everybody doing a little more we could close that gap," Achim Steiner, head of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), said in Copenhagen.

UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon said he was optimistic the conference would produce an agreement.

"We will get an agreement - and, I believe, that the agreement will be signed by all UN member states which is historic," Mr Ban said in an interview in the Danish newspaper Berlingske Tidende.

The United Nations set a deadline for the Copenhagen talks to yield a legally binding, and tougher, agreement to expand or replace the Kyoto Protocol from 2013. But negotiations, launched in 2007, became bogged down and the talks are likely to end with a weaker political declaration. A legally binding treaty text might agreed next year.

Mr De Boer said he was pleased US president Barack Obama would join other leaders at the final stages to hear concerns of countries most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

"I hope that as part of the negotiation process he comes with an ambitious American target and strong financial support to reach out to developing countries as well."

Mr Obama has said his government would offer a provisional 17 per cent emissions cut from 2005 levels by 2020, but developing nations and greens say this is not tough enough.

Mr De Boer said Copenhagen had to deliver three things. He said it must result in a list of rich country targets that were ambitious, clarity on what major developing countries would do to limit the growth of their emissions, and a list of financial pledges to help poorer nations green their economies and adapt to climate change impacts.

Greenpeace said the talks needed stronger political will. "The climate change negotiations have never seen such a momentum, and it must not be wasted," said Kumi Naidoo, executive director of Greenpeace International.

The Irish Timesis one of 56 newspapers in 45 countries published in 20 different languages that will carry the same leader article tomorrow calling for action at the climate summit in Copenhagen.