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'State of the Planet' Summit Concludes Climate Change Causes Poverty


International concern is mounting that global warming could put millions of people at risk through drought, floods and other extreme weather. A group of economists, scientists, and international leaders met in New York recently to discuss how climate change poses a particular risk to developing countries, and what solutions can be taken by rich and poor countries alike. Victoria Cavaliere has more from VOA's New York Bureau.

Rich and poor countries generally agree that climate change must be addressed, but often differ on how to go about it. Developed nations, including the United States, Britain and Japan, have focused on curbing their own greenhouse gas emissions, caused mainly from burning fossil fuels for energy. Poor countries are calling for assistance in dealing with climate-related impacts, like food shortages and drought, while also meeting energy needs to spur economic growth.

A summit on "the State of the Planet" hosted by Columbia University examined the link between poverty and climate change, and called for a new, global plan of action to deal with the two issues.

Conference participants argued that poor countries remain especially at risk to the effects of global warming. They say if left unchecked, global warming could spur conflict and puts millions of people at risk drought, mudslides, food shortages and illness.

Former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan said climate change is exacerbating the problems faced by poor nations.

"The international community must work to arrest this downward spiral," said Kofi Annan. "Developed countries carry the greatest responsibility for climate change yet the least developed suffer its impact the most. Developed countries must accept their responsibility to help poor countries deal with these changes, and must do so as a matter of urgency."

Economists at the conference focused on what steps could be taken to lessen the impact of climate change as the population expands and energy needs rise around the world.

Topping the list of recommendations was the promotion of clean energy technology, including solar, wind and hydrogen power.

Jill Shankleman, a consultant to the World Bank's political risk insurance arm, says global hunger for oil and gas will not decrease in the near future. She said eradicating poverty and addressing conflict in developing countries requires new energy initiatives and a new approach to managing resources.

"Although the awareness of climate change is expanding, for the next few decades we are also going to see the expansion of the oil and gas industry in many, many new places," said Jill Shankleman. "This will happen until the emerging, developing countries secure access to the oil and energy they need. So what's to be done? We need a new paradigm that explicitly links resource extraction with development."

Economist Jeffrey Sachs said addressing climate change requires a firm commitment by rich countries to also address extreme poverty and the growing global population.

He said current benchmarks set by rich countries for cutting greenhouse gas emissions are insufficient. He also argues the international community is unprepared for the changes that are taking place in the world, like soaring energy and food prices.

He says economic systems need to be revamped and more money and attention should go toward pursuing sustainable, renewable energy sources.

"But, the science only takes us part of the way," said Jeffrey Sachs. "Linking the science to all of the rest that has to happen involves government, business, international organizations, civil society and each of us in our own communities and our own households. That's an extraordinarily complex challenge."

On Wednesday, leaders from Japan and the European Union called for an ambitious and binding new international agreement on limiting greenhouse gas emissions. They say the pact should replace the Kyoto Protocol, which is set to expire in 2012. But, the proposal did not set specific targets for emissions reductions.

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