September 23, 2007

Do the right thing on climate change, UN head says

OTTAWA - Environmentalists need to mobilize popular support to allow governments to legislate to fight climate change, said United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

His comments come on the eve of a special summit on Monday that the UN is billing as the largest ever gathering of world leaders to discuss the threat of global warming. More than 70 heads of state or government, including Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and U.S. President George W. Bush, are expected to attend the one-day event that Ban convened in the hopes of breaking a stalemate on international climate negotiations between the developed and developing countries of the world.

"We need you, Greenpeace, to mobilize public opinion and enable politicians to do the right thing," Ban said during a meeting last week with several representatives of Greenpeace International.

Ban also publicly urged politicians last week to show more leadership on the file and start acting before it's too late.

The international community is in the midst of negotiating an extension to the Kyoto Protocol on climate change which expires in 2012. But some developed countries, such as the U.S., Canada and Australia have warned that they will only participate in a deal that places binding caps on pollution from the industries of large emerging economies such as India and China.

"It's very heartening though to see that somebody at (Ban's) level understands the important role civil society plays and is aware that politics isn't just about negotiating words and documents; it isn't just about convening meetings," said Daniel Mittler, a climate policy expert with Greenpeace International who sat in on the meeting with Ban. "It's also about public understanding about what civil societies around the world demand of their politicians."

Conservation groups have criticized Bush for convening a separate meeting of major economies at the end of next week to discuss climate change outside the official UN process. They warn that the separate meetings, including discussions at a recent trade summit in Australia for Pacific Rim economies, are a distraction designed to undermine the Kyoto Protocol and create a new agreement with no mandatory or binding commitments.

"Basically, Canada has been extremely destructive at these negotiations and has fought to prevent any progress in terms of setting new targets in this process," said Emilie Moorhouse, a spokesperson for the Sierra Club of Canada, at a news conference on Thursday in Ottawa. "Yet we hear claims that Canada is a bridge, and that Canada is a leader."

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has insisted that Canada is a leading by example after his government introduced new policies to slash greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution from industry with binding targets for action at home.

The UN summit comes on the heels of Saturday's announcement a deal between 191 nations - including Canada - to eliminate ozone-depleting substances 10 years ahead of schedule.

John Kerry, the Democratic senator who was defeated by Bush in the last U.S. election, said it would be up to his own country to take action that would broker a deal.

"It is a matter of record that President Bush successfully blocked the G8 nations (major industrialized countries) from accepting firm emission reduction targets at the June G8 meeting," said Kerry, during a conference call organized by the National Environmental Trust. "The United States needs to lead the world by passing cap-and-trade legislation that establishes concrete, economy-wide reduction targets on the order of 60 to 80 per cent (below current levels) by 2050."

Timothy Worth, president of the United Nations Foundation and Better World Fund, added that rich countries should even take a look at the example set by developing countries such as China, instead of blaming them for lack of progress on an international treaty.

"You don't start by saying, 'You're a bad guy,' kick them in the shins, and then say, 'Please sit down and negotiate with me,'" said Worth, who was also a member of former U.S. president Bill Clinton's Democratic administration. "They've got fuel economy standards in their auto fleets, for example, that are better than ours."

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