U.S. has special role in global warming fight: U.N. chief

MEDFORD, Mass., Reuters

The United States, as the world’s biggest polluter, has a special responsibility to help fight global warming and promote conservation, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan said on Sunday.

“The United States, as you probably know, is the world’s leading emitter of greenhouse gases, largely because it is the world’s most successful economy,” Annan said in a commencement address at Tuft’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy in Medford, Massachusetts.

“That makes it especially important for it to join in reducing emissions and in the broader quest for energy efficiency and conservation,” he said.

In a speech extending his criticism of President George W. Bush’s decision in March to reject the 1997 Kyoto Protocol on global warming, Annan warned that ignoring conservation could damage economic growth around the world. He added that the international community was in danger of losing hard-won gains in the fight against climate change.

“There is concern throughout the world about the decision of the new administration to oppose the Protocol,” Annan said, according to prepared remarks.

Annan has called the Bush administration move “unfortunate” and after coming under intense and widespread criticism about its decision, the United States agreed recently to attend the next round of international talks on climate change in Bonn, Germany in July.

Bush pulled out of the Kyoto pact after criticizing it as faulty and harmful the U.S. economy. The administration also said it was unfair that developing nations were exempt from the first phase of restrictions on emissions of pollutants.

But Annan attacked the assertion that cutting emissions and other conservation measures would hurt economies.

“In fact, the opposite is true: unless we protect resources and the earth’s natural capital, we shall not be able to sustain economic growth,” he said.

“It is also said that conservation, while admirable, has only limited potential. But economists how broadly agree that improved energy efficiency and other ‘no regrets’ strategies could bring great benefits at little or no costs,” Annan said in what appeared to be a rejection of remarks by U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney that conservation was a personal virtue but not the basis of a sound energy policy.

Annan dismissed arguments that global warming is an unproved phenomenon and that more studies should be undertaken to be sure it a real threat.

“Imagine melting polar icecaps and rising sea levels, threatening beloved and highly developed coastal areas such as Cape Cod with erosion and storm surges,” he said. “Imagine a warmer and wetter world in which infectious diseases such as malaria and yellow fever spread more easily.

“This is not some distant, worst-case scenario. It is tomorrow’s forecast. Nor is this science fiction. It is sober prediction, based on the best science available,” he said.

Annan called on all world leaders to show that they take climate change seriously but said developed nations had to lead the way because they release most of the pollutants that cause for global warming.

He also said developing countries were not getting a pass on their responsibilities.

“Developing countries will have to do their part in due course; their exclusion from emissions commitments, it should be stressed, is only for the first phase,” Annan said, noting that China and other developing nations were taking steps to limit the growth in their emissions.

The Kyoto Protocol calls for industrialized nations to cut emissions by an average of 5.2 percent from 1990 levels by 2012, to slow the buildup of heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.