The largest and most important UN climate change conference in history opened yesterday, with organizers warning diplomats from 192 nations that this could be the best and last chance for a deal to protect the world from calamitous global warming.
The two-week conference, the climax of two years of contentious negotiations, convened in an upbeat mood after a series of promises by rich and emerging economies to curb their greenhouse gases, but with major issues yet to be resolved.
Conference president Connie Hedegaard said the key to an agreement is finding a way to raise and channel public and private financing to poor countries for years to come to help them fight the effects of climate change.
Hedegaard — Denmark’s former climate minister — said if governments miss their chance at the Copenhagen summit, a better opportunity may never come.
“This is our chance. If we miss it, it could take years before we got a new and better one. If we ever do,” she said.
Denmark’s prime minister said 110 heads of state and government would attend the final days of the conference.
US President Barack Obama’s decision to attend the end of the conference, not the middle, was taken as a signal that an agreement was getting closer.
The conference opened with video clips of children from around the globe urging delegates to help them grow up in a world without catastrophic warming. On the sidelines, climate activists competed for attention to their campaigns on deforestation, clean energy and low-carbon growth.
Mohamad Shinaz, an activist from the Maldives, plunged feet-first into a tank with 750 liters of frigid water to illustrate what rising sea levels were doing to his island nation.
“I want people to know that this is happening,” Shinaz said, the water reaching up to his chest. “We have to stop global warming.”
At stake is a deal that aims to wean the world away from fossil fuels and other pollutants to greener sources of energy, and to transfer hundreds of billions of dollars from rich to poor countries every year over decades to help them adapt to climate change.
Scientists say without such an agreement, the Earth will face the consequences of ever-rising temperatures, leading to the extinction of plant and animal species, the flooding of coastal cities, more extreme weather events, drought and the spread of diseases.
“The evidence is now overwhelming” that the world needs early action to combat global warming, said Rajendra Pachauri, the head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a UN expert panel.
Negotiations have dragged on for two years, only recently showing signs of breakthroughs with new commitments from the US, China and India.
The first week of the conference will focus on refining the complex text of a draft treaty. But major decisions will await the arrival next week of environment ministers and the heads of state in the final days of the conference.
“The time for formal statements is over,” said the UN’s top climate official, Yvo de Boer. “Copenhagen will only be a success it delivers significant and immediate action.”
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