World leaders face uphill struggle on climate change deal

More than 100 world leaders promised to seek a global agreement to the threats of rising ocean levels, record cyclones and intensifying heat waves.

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UNITED NATIONS // After the protests, speeches and corporate pledges, world leaders ended the United Nations climate summit facing as tough a slog as ever to get a deal on cutting greenhouse-gas emissions.

US president Barack Obama and more than 100 other world leaders promised to seek a global agreement addressing climate change. They took the stage on Tuesday to lay out how rising ocean levels, intensifying cyclones, record flooding or intensifying heat waves threaten their nations.

“The alarm bells keep ringing. Our citizens keep marching,” Mr Obama told the delegates at the UN in New York. “We cannot pretend we do not hear them.”

What those warnings left unaddressed is how the nations will resolve their longstanding differences and secure an accord to cut emissions by the end of next year – the agreed upon deadline.

“The key, difficult negotiating issues for the new international agreement are all still before us now,” said Peter Ogden, a senior fellow at the Centre for American Progress in Washington.

At the heart of earlier disputes were demands from the US that large developing countries such as China, India and Brazil agree to cap and reduce their emissions, just as rich nations agreed to do the same. Mr Obama made it clear that he would not back down from that demand.

“We can only succeed in combating climate change if we are joined in this effort by every nation – developed and developing alike,” he said. “Nobody gets a pass.”

Following the breakdown in negotiations at a UN meeting in Copenhagen in 2009, and the failure by the US to adopt the 1997 Kyoto treaty, analysts were looking to China and the US to see what each could offer.

Combined, they account for about 45 per cent of global greenhouse-gas emissions.

Developing countries want rich nations to pay billions of dollars to help them boost renewable energy and address the problems of global warming. Those pledges remain largely unfulfilled, although French president Francois Hollande pledged $1 billion (Dh3.67bn), matching a similar pledge from Germany.

The US has not pledged a contribution yet.

“For the negotiations, that is critical,” said Mr Ogden, a former Obama administration official.

The brainchild of UN secretary-general Ban Ki-Moon, the summit was designed to create momentum for negotiations.

Negotiators are set to meet in Lima in December.

Mr Obama urged nations to issue their pledges for future emissions cuts early next year.

The discussions inside the UN followed marches by more than 300,000 people through Manhattan on September 21, the largest social protest in the last decade. Protesters “asked me to bring their voices into the halls of the United Nations, and that’s what I’ve done,” Mr Ban said.

Companies brought their voices, too, with some saying they would act on their own to preserve forests, reduce methane leaks and swap out the use of potent hydrofluorocarbons. More than 1,000 corporate leaders signed on to support a tax or cap on carbon, an action World Bank President Jim Kim called remarkable.

In addition, the US government announced that companies would begin phasing out hydrofluorocarbons, which are short-term but intense warming compounds used in air conditioners and refrigerators.

During the summit, Mr Obama highlighted steps the US is already taking to cut carbon-dioxide pollution from power plants and reduce funding for overseas coal projects as a demonstration of the commitment of the world’s largest economy and second- largest emitter.

“He made it clear the US is serious about fighting climate change through major cuts to our carbon pollution,” said Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, a New York-based environmental group.

China, which has displaced the US as the top emitter, was represented by Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli, who pledged that it would cap its emissions. At previous summits, China had promised only to reduce its rate of emissions.

“A peak is an absolute limit,” said David Waskow of the World Resources Institute, a Washington-based research group. “Obama and Zhang served as bookends, showing the two largest emitters are ready to act.”

Last week, Chinese officials vowed to cut carbon emissions per unit of gross domestic product by 50 per cent by 2020 from 2005 levels.

* Bloomberg