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Climate Change Conference Begins in Mexico

Mexico's President Felipe Calderon speaks at the opening of the United Nations climate change conference in Cancun, 29 Nov 2010

The United Nations Climate Change Conference got underway in the Mexican beach resort of Cancun on Monday with calls for decisive action to curb greenhouse gas emissions worldwide as part of an effort to curb global warming. But conference participants are looking for advances on a handful of issues rather than an overall agreement that would legally bind nations to reduce emissions.

Delegates from more than 190 nations and representatives of non-governmental organizations are here for two weeks of discussions aimed at moving toward a comprehensive agreement at some future meeting.

But in his opening remarks, Mexico's President Felipe Calderon said the world might not be able to wait much longer for decisive action.

Mr. Calderon said climate change is already a reality for Mexico and the planet. He cited recent deadly floods in Mexico, Guatemala and Pakistan, as well as disasters in Russia and Africa as evidence that climate change is disrupting life for people around the world.

The threat is especially keen for small island nations as rising sea levels threaten their existence. The chairwoman for the group representing 42 of those nations is Grenada's ambassador to the United Nations, Dessima Williams.

"Our environmental integrity is at risk. Our peoples' livelihood remains at risk and the very credibility of the multilateral system to which we are pledged and to which, as small states, we depend --all are at stake," said Williams.

These nations want the world to commit to keeping the world's temperature no more than 1.5 degrees higher than pre-industrial levels - an ambitious goal given that world leaders struggled to commit to a two-degree limit at last year's climate summit in Copenhagen.

But while there is near universal agreement at this conference agree on the gravity of the problem, those in attendance are not of one mind when it comes to what needs to be done.

The European Union is urging large emitters of greenhouse gases like China and the United States to put aside differences and commit to a legally binding agreement.

The head of the U.S. Climate Change delegation, Jonathan Pershing, says an agreement on cutting emissions worldwide must be verifiable.

"It is extremely important to have a clear sense of understanding about what countries are delivering, what they are doing," said Pershing. "How do you know? How do you create confidence in the process and for one country in the actions of the other countries?"

Whether negotiators can move closer to an agreement based on such transparency is one of the questions that will be answered when this conference comes to a close on December 10.