Will Hot Words at U.N. Climate Summit Be Enough to Cool the Planet?

Leaders talk tough at global warming conference, but will any action follow?

Sept. 24, 2007 — -- Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger told world leaders at the United Nations that climate change is a global challenge that requires immediate action.

Appearing at the request of U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, they joined over 80 heads of state in the largest gathering of world leaders to address the topic.

"The consequences of global climate change are so pressing, it doesn't matter who was responsible for the past," Gov. Schwarzenegger told a packed General Assembly. "What matters is who is answerable for the future. And that means all of us," he added.

The Republican governor showcased California's recent efforts to go green as the "cutting edge" of how government can deal with climate change, highlighting the state's recent technological innovation and legislation to reduce carbon emissions.

Gore, who has made global warming his main issue since leaving office and achieved celebrity status for his documentary, "An Inconvenient Truth," called for the world's top leaders to meet every three months -- starting in 2008 -- until they draft a plan that will reduce the emissions that cause global warming. Echoing such a call for action was French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who appealed to the major emitters to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions by at least half by 2050. German Chancellor Angela Merkel took a strong stance as well, suggesting that a global scheme to trade carbon, which puts a price on a nation's carbon dioxide emissions, will also be key in the fight against global warming.

U.S. Pledges to Take Action

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told international leaders during the summit that climate change is an "urgent" global challenge, and said that the White House is willing to take a leadership role on the issue.

Appearing on behalf of President Bush, who did not attend the summit but later went to a dinner hosted by the Secretary General, Rice said the world's fight to cool the planet would have to come from a "technical revolution," such as the development of clean coal plants and biofuels.

The Bush administration has come under fire from critics who complain that the United States hasn't done enough to tackle climate change. Addressing the issue briefly in his State of the Union speech last January, Bush said that new technologies would help America fight global warming and reduce its dependence on oil.

Already, the United States has invested billions in development in new energy technology. But critics complain that the United States has failed to reduce the emissions responsible for the harmful greenhouse gases that scientists say warm the planet.

The United States is second to China as the largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world.

Bush, who does not favor emissions reductions, will be meeting with the leaders of 16 nations in Washington, D.C., Sept. 27 and 28 to discuss climate change.

U.N.- All Talk, No Action?

The United Nations put the issue of climate change on the global political agenda nearly two decades ago with the creation of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Since then, 2,500 scientists from 130 nations at the IPCC have concluded with at least 90 percent certainty that mankind is to blame for most global warming in the last half century, up from a 66 percent certainty in 2001.

Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the IPCC, warned world leaders at Monday's summit that millions of people are at risk of losing access to water as glaciers melt. Food scarcity will also become a major concern if crops that humans depend on are affected by climate change as well, he said.

The U.N. Secretary General, who called climate change a defining issue of this era, organized Monday's summit with hopes that it would galvanize world leaders to think about a plan of action to deal with global warming during December talks in Bali, he said.

Nations will have to think of a new policy to replace the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012.

While today's meetings on climate change didn't produce any legislation or policies, experts point out that high-level talks held by the United Nations have historically put issues on the forefront of the international agenda.

"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," Ban said.