World Leaders Short on Details at Climate Summit

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Hu JintaoWhen more than 100 world leaders met at a United Nations climate change summit yesterday, observers hoped that China or the United States would unveil a bold plan for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The event at the UN headquarters in New York allowed the presidents of the world's two largest carbon dioxide polluting nations to articulate their climate policies, but the speeches provided few policy details.

U.S. President Barack Obama said that developing countries should receive support to adapt to the impacts of climate change and pursue low-carbon development.

"We must energize our efforts to put other developing nations - especially the poorest and most vulnerable - on a path to sustainable growth," Obama said, although he did not clarify the level of assistance. "These nations do not have the same resources to combat climate change as countries like the United States or China do."

Chinese President Hu Jintao took the podium next. In the next 10 years, Hu said, his country would "endeavor" to reduce carbon dioxide emissions per unit of economic growth. Rather than promise a reduction target, Hu offered to cut emissions by a "notable margin."

While the statement provides more clarity to China's position - officials said last month that the country's emissions would continue to rise until 2050 - it appears that China will not announce more specific reduction commitments until industrialized nations specify how much funding developing countries will receive.

"Developed countries should take up their responsibility and provide new, additional, adequate, and predictable financial support to developing countries to enable them to have access to climate-friendly technologies," Hu said.

Climate-related financing is currently well below what will be needed to help developing nations weather the most serious impacts of climate change. Some US$8 billion has been provided annually in recent years for developing countries to transition to low-carbon economies, but an estimated $400 billion will be necessary each year by 2030, according to the World Bank.

Adaptation funding is also far below the needed amount. Less than $1 billion annually has been provided, whereas the estimated need is $75 billion, the Bank said in its latest World Development Report.

Less than three months remain before world leaders gather in Copenhagen, Denmark, to finalize a successor agreement to the Kyoto Protocol. With only 15 negotiating days before the Copenhagen summit begins, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged world leaders to find a common ground.

"Failure to reach broad agreement in Copenhagen would be morally inexcusable, economically short-sighted, and politically unwise," Ban said. "The fate of future generations, and the hopes and livelihoods of billions today rest, literally, with you."

But the negotiations are progressing far too slowly, said Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt.

"The negotiations are still lacking real progress. We are close to a deadlock," said Reinfeldt, speaking on behalf of the European Union. "Our job is to break the deadlock and climb up from the trenches."

French President Nicholas Sarkozy proposed that leaders of the world's main economies meet in mid-November to accelerate the negotiations before Copenhagen.

"What we lack today is confidence and determination," Sarkozy said. "The time has passed for diplomatic tinkering, for narrow bargaining. The time has come for courage, mobilization, and collective ambition."

Among the speeches, newly elected Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama reiterated his campaign pledge of reducing Japan's emissions 25 percent by 2020.

"I am resolved to exercise the political will required to deliver on this promise by mobilizing all available policy tools," Hatoyama said. "These will include the introduction of a domestic emission trading mechanism and a feed-in tariff for renewable energy, as well as the consideration of a global warming tax."

Hu announced that China would increase its use of renewable and nuclear energy, with the goal of elevating non-fossil fuel energy consumption to 15 percent of the total by 2020. In addition, he said, China would plant 40 million hectares of forests.

Obama also said that he would work with leaders of the world's 20 largest economies to phase-out fossil fuel subsidies when the G20 meets in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, later this week. The United States provided $70.2 billion for fossil fuel subsidies and $12.2 billion for renewable energy subsidies, not including corn ethanol, from 2002 through 2008, according to an Environmental Law Institute study.

Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), said that the current pace of emissions will lead to an increase in global temperature of more than 4 degrees Celsius by mid-century. Industrial leaders agreed in July to halt warming to 2 degrees.

"The IPCC has clearly specified that if temperature increase is to be limited to between 2.0 and 2.4 degrees Celsius, global emissions must peak no later than 2015. That is only six years from now," Pachauri said. "Science leaves us with no choice for inaction now."

Ben Block is a staff writer with the Worldwatch Institute. He can be reached at

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