UNITED NATIONS – Nearly 100 countries speaking at the first U.N. General Assembly meeting on climate change signaled strong support for negotiations on a new international deal to tackle global warming.
There was so much interest among worried nations — many facing drought, floods and searing heat — that the two-day meeting was extended for an extra day so that more countries could describe their climate-related problems, how they are coping, and the help they need.
"We now have the momentum," General Assembly President Sheikha Haya Rashed Al Khalifa told delegates at the closing session Thursday evening. "What we do with this is more important. We need to ensure that we agree an equitable, fair and ambitious global deal to match the scale of the challenges ahead."
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Clinching that deal will likely take several years of intense and difficult negotiations, which are expected to start at a December meeting on the Indonesian island of Bali.
It will focus on a replacement for the Kyoto protocol, which requires 35 industrial nations to cut their global-warming emissions 5 percent below 1990 levels by 2012, when the accord expires.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who has made climate change a top priority since taking the reins of the U.N. on Jan. 1, urged all countries to reach a comprehensive agreement by 2009, which would leave time for governments to ratify the accord so it could take effect in 2013.
In an effort "to build on existing momentum" and "galvanize political will" for the negotiations, Ban said he was convening a high-level meeting on climate change on Sept. 24, a day before the General Assembly's annual ministerial meeting begins.
The question of what to do to tackle climate change has become increasingly complex because of competing environmental, economic and energy concerns from countries with different priorities.
The United States, the largest emitter of greenhouse gases, is not a party to the Kyoto agreement, and large developing countries such as China, the second-largest emitter, India and Brazil are exempt from its obligations. They are afraid they will be called on to reduce emissions after 2012, which would hurt their economic growth and poverty-eradication efforts.
At the same time, small island states in the Pacific are demanding action to deal with rising sea levels that could wipe them off the map, while oil-producing countries are concerned that a major source of revenue could be harmed by climate change action in the future.
Koji Tsuruoka, the Japanese Foreign Ministry's director general for global issues and point man for climate change, said inviting world leaders to the Sept. 24 meeting was important because unless new negotiations start "under top leadership, you can't expect any progress or results."
He said it was critical to get all countries to participate in negotiations and avoid the mistake of Kyoto where proceedings were rushed and "the most important passengers" were not on board.
After the Sept. 24 meeting, Tsuruoka predicted that climate change "will become top priority agenda politically to each and every nation."
The two-week Bali meeting will then hopefully agree on a negotiating agenda, perhaps with a roadmap leading to a post-Kyoto agreement, he said.
Climate change will be discussed again when the Group of Eight major industrialized nations meet in Japan in July 2008, he told several reporters on Thursday.
"That will present a possibility ... of departing the train with full passengers, and this is a must," Tsuruoka said.
The United States and China account for about 40 or 45 percent of global emissions, he said. "If those two countries do nothing, that's already globally very dangerous. So we need to have ... (a) strong commitment, strong obligation for either mitigating or reducing their emissions."
U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad told the General Assembly the United States was committed to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, which is holding the Bali conference, and its objective of stabilizing the concentration of greenhouse gases.
At the Bali conference, he said, the U.S. will work "to accelerate progress on key issues" including promoting sustainable forestry and agriculture, adapting to the impacts of climate change and improving access to clean and more energy efficient technologies.
China's deputy U.N. ambassador Liu Zhenmin called for restrictions of "luxury emissions" by rich countries and said negotiations "on targets of further emission reduction by developed countries beyond 2012" must take place in the Kyoto framework.
The Group of 77, which represents 132 mainly developing countries and China, said the Bali conference will be successful if it takes "fully into account the needs and concerns of all developing countries."
Pakistan's Environment Minister Mukhdoom Faisal Saleh Hayat, whose country heads the group, added that Pakistan wants the Bali conference to agree on "a comprehensive and clear timeframe" to achieve a post-Kyoto accord.
Yvo de Boer, executive director of the U.N. Framework Convention, said he was encouraged by Pakistan's stance, and to hear China, India, Brazil and Mexico talking about their efforts to address climate change.