United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Monday opened the largest gathering of world leaders on climate change yet convened with an impassioned plea to speed up a global plan of action on climate change.
“I am convinced that climate change, and what we do about it, will define us, our era, and ultimately the global legacy we leave for future generations,” Mr. Ban told representatives from over 150 nations, including 80 heads of State and Government – at UN Headquarters in New York.
“We hold the future in our hands,” he said. “Together, we must ensure that our grandchildren will not have to ask why we failed to do the right thing, and let them suffer the consequences.”
He cited the findings of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that global warming is directly linked to human activity, calling on the attendees to take “unprecedented action” to meet this challenge.
“We must be guided by the reality that inaction now will prove the costliest action of all in the long term,” he said.
Development was seriously impeded by climate change, which threatens to reverse the gains made towards the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to reduce poverty by 2015, the Secretary-General said.
In a statement specially prepared for the meeting, UN-HABITAT’s Executive Director, Mrs. Anna Tibaijuka, reminded world leaders that they must never lose sight of the fact that towns and cities are largely responsible for a challenge affecting the entire planet at a time already half of humanity is urbanized.
“How we plan, manage and live in our growing cities determines, to a large extent, the pace of global warming, Mrs. Tibaijuka said. “This is because 75 percent of global energy consumption occurs in cities, and 80 percent of greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming come from urban areas.”
She said that roughly half of those emissions were caused by the burning of fossil fuel for urban transport, with the other half coming from energy to heat or cool buildings and run appliances: “These are the hallmarks of our built environment and our quest for quality of life in urban places.”
In a warning to world leaders, Mrs. Tibaijuka added: “The most affected today and in the future, will be the world’s urban poor – chief among them, the 1 billion slum dwellers.”
UN-HABITAT’s new six year plan is driven by the vision of sustainable urbanization with strategies to help local and national authorities combat climate change. The agency, she said was also preparing a special meeting of experts at its Nairobi headquarters in November to help devise a new climate change road map for cities.
The leaders of several developing countries on Monday urged industrialized nations to take the lead in halting climate change with funding and technology transfer.
“Unfortunately, the ability of Africa and other developing countries to respond to this challenge is very limited,” said President John Agyekum Kufuor of Ghana. “General poverty, over reliance on nature, especially in agriculture, little or no access to technology with capacity to adapt to, or mitigate the impact of the change, all combine to make these countries highly vulnerable.”
South Africa said the United States and other developed countries had to take the lead. “The trigger to strengthen the regime must come from the North,” said South African Environment Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk. “Full participation by the world’s largest historical emitter, the United States, is a prerequisite.”
His views were also echoed by leaders from Latin America and Asia – all speaking on the eve Monday of a major policy address to the global gathering scheduled Tuesday by U.S.
President George Bush. Many said they hoped that this week’s meeting entitled, “The Future in our Hands: Addressing the Leadership Challenge of Climate Change” – would create a new global momentum for the major summit in Bali, Indonesia, this December.