Countries around the world are looking to the new US administration for leadership in reaching a global climate treaty next year but no nation will be able to singlehandedly deliver a final agreement, a senior UN official said on Thursday.
Robert Orr, assistant secretary-general for policy coordination and strategic planning, said US president-elect Barack Obama’s comments on the need to address climate change have raised “a lot of hope” — particularly at a time when some governments are talking about delaying their efforts to curb emissions, partly because of the economic crisis.
“The fact that the United States seems to be visibly moving in the other direction is a very hopeful sign for the negotiation,” Orr told a news conference.
Representatives from 190 countries are meeting in the Polish city of Poznan from Monday this week to next Friday to work toward an ambitious new treaty that hopefully will be adopted at a meeting in Copenhagen, Denmark next December. It would replace the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012.
The US rejected the Kyoto protocol, which requires 37 countries to slash emissions by an average 5 percent from 1990 levels. Washington argued that it would harm business and didn’t require similar cuts by China, India and other emerging economies.
But those developing countries have refused to accept a binding arrangement that would limit their development.
Obama, however, has promised to establish annual targets to reduce US emissions to their 1990 levels by 2020 and reduce them by another 80 percent by 2050.
He also has promised to invest US$15 billion each year to support private-sector efforts toward clean energy, arguing that tackling climate change can create millions of new jobs in green technologies such as solar and wind power, biofuels and cleaner coal-fired plants.
“It’s safe to say that anyone involved in this negotiation looks to the US for some real leadership on this,” Orr said. “With that said, I don’t think any single country, however important — as everyone will recognize the United States is, is going to turn around or deliver a negotiation singlehandedly.”
He said that especially with the major players there must be “real action.”
“The signs are good — but it’s very early — that the new [US] administration and the new Congress are really putting this at the top of their agenda,” Orr said.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon agrees that climate change should be at the top of the agenda next year and is encouraged by the signs from the incoming US administration and Congress, he said.
“Climate change will be center stage throughout 2009,” Orr said, because governments, individuals and corporations are beginning to understand “the direct linkage” between tackling the climate issue and the economic recovery.
“You really can’t deal with one without the other,” he said.