Here at the U.N. on the first day of the 64th session of the General Assembly, over 100 heads of state have gathered to discuss climate change in the run-up to December’s Copenhagen conference. U.S. President Barack Obama headlined the plenary session, which featured eight world leaders.
“We risk consigning future generations to catastrophe,” said Obama. “To promote renewable energy projects and technologies in the developing world…we have put climate change at the top of our diplomatic agenda.”
The American president spoke mostly in generalities, but his message was received warmly by delegates in the General Assembly Hall. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon exhorted the international community to take “urgent action…the climate negotiations are too slow.”
“We can contribute to the greater good by limiting the global temperature rise to safe levels,” said Ban.
Expectations were high ahead of Chinese President Hu Jintao’s speech at the United Nations summit on climate control. His speech introduced four new proposals, but the proposals lacked details on when and how China is going to implement them.
President Hu emphasized the importance of climate change and said that achieving sustainable development is an urgent matter for China, adding that his country will do its best to develop renewable and nuclear energy. He promised emissions would grow slower than economic growth in the future.
“We will endeavor to cut carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP by a notable margin by 2020 from the 2005 level,” he added, and charged developing countries with supporting the world in tackling climate change.
“This is not only their responsibility, but also serves their long-term interest.”
But President Hu would not commit China to a specific target in reducing emissions.
Watch: Shao Zheng of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs discusses the Chinese president’s speech.
French President Nicholas Sarkozy delivered the most impassioned address in support of immediate legislation on climate change. The French leader also mentioned specific targets for 80 percent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by developed countries before 2050. The policy idea most strongly emphasized by Sarkozy was the transfer of financing and technology from the developed nations to underdeveloped nations. France is one of the countries most ready to implement actual legislation that would result in such a transfer of green energy in the near future.
While there will no doubt be a lag between the inspired speeches and political reality, the chorus of global leaders seemed to be speaking in unusual harmony.
“The journey is long. The journey is hard,” concluded Obama. “If we resolve to work tirelessly in common effort, then we will achieve our common purpose: A world that is safer, cleaner, and healthier than the one we found; and a future that is worthy of our children.”
– Mohammad al-Kassim and Ben Piven