The United Nations is keeping itself at the forefront of international efforts to slow global warming. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has made climate change his signature issue, and he is trying to spur negotiations for a new global climate treaty by bringing about 100 heads of state and government together for a summit. Their meeting (September 22) on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly session could signal whether the treaty will make progress at a meeting in Copenhagen later this year.
Scientists say the Earth is changing, and not for the better. Glaciers are melting too fast, sea levels are rising and severe weather is more frequent, with floods or drought affecting crops and livestock.
The scientists say the outlook could be bleak for future generations unless the rate of global warming slows down significantly.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon saw the problem up close on his recent visit to the Arctic.
"Standing on the Arctic ice I felt the immense power of nature," he said. "At the same time, I felt a great sense of urgency, as well as a sense of vulnerability for our world. Because I have seen these glaciers were melting and glaciers were thinning and if we would not take any urgent action to stop this further glacier melting, scientists warn us by 2030 we may have a virtually ice-free Arctic."
The main culprit in global warming is the rising level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. It is released through processes such as the burning of oil and coal and the chopping down of forests. Industry, modern agriculture and deforestation in all countries contribute to global warming, but many experts say China, the United States, Brazil and Indonesia are responsible for the most carbon emissions.
The international community wants a new global climate treaty to reduce carbon emissions, and the hope is that negotiations could produce agreement at a meeting in Denmark's capital in December.
The secretary-general is trying to give those negotiations a political boost by convening a climate-change summit Tuesday, with 100 world leaders expected to attend, as delegates gather for the U.N. General Assembly's annual debate.
Andrew Deutz of the Nature Conservancy says the leaders must commit to serious greenhouse-gas emission reductions. The target is at least 25 to 40 percent by the time they get to Copenhagen.
"We want emissions reductions commitments among the wealthy countries of the world," he said. "We want the developing countries to agree to start reducing the growth of their emissions. They can't continue to grow their emissions at the rate they have, but we want their economies to continue to grow."
The U.N. is seeking reduced emissions and ways to give developing countries financial and technological help, so they can adapt to the impact of climate change. But that won't be cheap. The United Nations and others estimate it could cost $400 billion to $600 billion a year.
"That sounds like a really big number, until you look at what the stimulus package cost in the United States, until you look at what we spent to bail out AIG [the insurance company]," he added. "The first bailout was $700 billion. So dealing with climate change in all the 130 developing countries around the world every year costs less than what we spent to bail out Wall Street."
While negotiators work to hash out a deal by December, the secretary-general says we can all do our part to help the Earth. He told VOA small lifestyle changes can make a difference, and he is practicing what he preaches.
"Wherever I travel, wherever I stay, I have been always turning off lights. And I have been using very sparingly this water, and I have been minimizing my carbon footprint. And I'm really trying to lead by example myself," said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
The secretary-general says it is urgent that the international community comes together to seal the deal in Copenhagen, because the planet cannot wait.