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Obama warns of "irreversible catastrophe" for climate

23 Sep 2009

THE IRISH TIMES

by Lara Marlowe

WORLD LEADERS have attempted to inject a sense of urgency into negotiations for a global climate change agreement.

"We risk consigning future generations to an irreversible catastrophe," President Barack Obama told 190 heads of state and government who convened at the United Nations on the eve of the opening of the General Assembly.

UN secretary general Ban Ki- moon said: "This is the largest-ever meeting of world leaders on climate change. Now is the moment to act. We will soon reach the critical threshold, the consequences of which cannot be reversed. We have less than 10 years to avoid the worst-case scenario . . . The Arctic will be nearly ice-free by late 2030."

Yesterday's summit was intended to increase the chances of reaching an agreement at the Copenhagen conference in December, to replace the Kyoto Protocol which expires in 2012. "There are only 15 negotiating days left until Copenhagen," Mr Ban warned.

Meanwhile, the Chinese president Hu Jintao did not fulfil a UN official's predictions that China would suddenly become a champion of the fight against global warming.

Mr Hu spoke in platitudes and stressed the need for developed countries to understand developing countries. China and India are often portrayed as the villains of the global warming crisis.

Dr Rajendra Pachauri, the scientist who chairs the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, said the "warming of the climate system is unequivocal". Due to melting ice and thermal expansion, sea levels rose 17cm in the 20th century, putting small ocean nations like the Maldives Islands "barely a metre or two above sea level".

In what was perhaps the most powerful speech of the day, the young president of the Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed, warned the assembly: "Unless you act quickly and decisively, our homeland and others like it will disappear beneath the rising sea before the end of this century. We ask you: what will become of us?"

Following the morning's speeches, Taoiseach Brian Cowen said: "We have to find a way to stop global warming or else we put at risk the survival of this planet.

He made what one of his aides called "a very strong and passionate" unscheduled intervention in a closed-door round-table meeting, arguing that now was "a defining moment for the UN" and "the time for action".

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