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UN's Ban Presses for Action on Climate Change


U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon opened a two-day conference on addressing climate change Monday at the United Nations, urging international action this year on the issue. Some 100 countries are participating in the debate, along with members of the private sector, civil society and individuals from around the world. From United Nations headquarters in New York, VOA's Margaret Besheer has more.

The U.N. General Assembly-sponsored meeting is intended to support the momentum started in December at the U.N. climate change conference on the Indonesian island of Bali. At that meeting, nearly 200 nations agreed to adopt a blueprint to control global warming gases before the end of 2009, ahead of the expiration of the Kyoto Protocol in 2012.

Monday, the secretary-general urged member states to take action to meet that deadline, and called on developed nations to take the lead.

"Developed countries need to take a clear lead, but success is possible only if all countries act," said Ban Ki-moon.

The conference also drew leaders from the international business world, among them Briton Richard Branson, who heads the Virgin Group. At a news conference, he proposed the creation of what he called an environmental war room that would have the power to mobilize resources and influence policy.

"It will never duplicate efforts, but instead act as a catalyst to bring together relevant public and private organizations, businesses and governments to drive action on a large scale; a powerful combination of innovation, intelligence and the right resources in order to fight one of the largest battles of our lifetime," said Richard Branson.

Branson says former U.S. Vice President and environmental activist Al Gore is among the handful of individuals he is considering approaching about running the war room. Gore, along with the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, won the Nobel Peace Prize last year.

Among the other personalities at Monday's meeting was New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The mayor is well known for his environmental activism and attended the Bali conference last year. He told reporters that climate change has the same potential to destroy the planet as nuclear weapons and terrorism.

"Terrorists kill people," said Mayor Bloomberg. "Weapons of mass destruction have the potential to kill enormous amounts of people. Global warming, long-term, has the potential to kill everybody."

New York has more than eight million residents, and Mayor Bloomberg detailed actions his administration is taking to reduce the city's carbon dioxide emissions. Among them are plans to convert the city's fleet of taxicabs to hybrid cars.

"This one action alone will reduce New York City's carbon footprint by half a percent," he said. "In the bargain, it will also clean our air of pollutants, and save thousands of dollars a year in fuel costs for a our cab drivers."

Bloomberg says he is also considering a congestion charge to discourage drivers from using their cars, and says the city is planting one million trees over the next 10 years to reduce carbon dioxide, clean the air of pollutants and cool the streets.

The debate continues Tuesday in the General Assembly, when some 20 ministers are expected to participate.

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