- The Age, Adam Morton, Poznan Poland
- December 13, 2008 - 2:25AM
FORMER US Vice-President Al Gore has urged the world's leaders to meet several times during 2009 to secure a new treaty to tackle climate change.
Bringing a note of optimism to pessimistic delegates at UN climate talks in Poland, Mr Gore said US President-elect Barack Obama had assured him that combating the "greatest challenge humankind has ever faced" would be a top priority of his country's new administration.
"He emphasised that once he is president, the United States will once again engage vigorously in these negotiations and help lead toward a successful conclusion," he said to applause from the conference floor.
"I believe that it is time between now and the gathering in Copenhagen one year from now for heads of state to become personally involved in meeting several times between Poznan and Copenhagen - I don't think that they can stay disengaged from this process any longer."
Mr Gore, a Nobel laureate for his crusading work to combat climate change, highlighted steps already being taken to make a case that a new deal was possible by next year's deadline meeting in Copenhagen.
He praised China - attacked by President George Bush for not accepting binding greenhouse emission targets - for investing US$600million in green projects over the next two years, including the largest tree planting program the world has seen.
Other causes for hope included the prospect of a massive investment in green jobs to help fight the economic and climate crises and Brazil promising to cut deforestation rates by 70 per cent.
"In spite of the remaining obstacles and difficulties, I believe that the causes for hope and optimism are greater than the causes for doubt and discouragement and I believe the road to Copenhagen is now clear," Mr Gore said.
But he also warned that the predictions of the UN's climate scientists had now been surpassed, and that deeper cuts in emissions than were currently being considered would be needed. Stabilising atmospheric carbon dioxide levels at 450 parts per million - factoring in a temperature rise of about two degrees - would be an incredibly difficult first step but ultimately not enough, he said.
"We will have to toughen that goal to 350 parts per million - we understand that," he said. Carbon dioxide concentrations are already more than 380 parts per million.
"Very simply put, it is wrong for this generation to destroy the habitability of our planet and ruin the prospects of every future generation," Mr Gore said.
He called on the world's people to speak up more forcefully. "We have to overcome the paralysis that has prevented us from acting and focus clearly and unblinkingly on this crisis rather than spending so much time on OJ Simpson and Paris Hilton and Anna-Nicole Smith," he said.
Though not officially representing the incoming US administration, Mr Gore arrived in Poland after a lengthy meeting with President-elect Obama to discuss energy policy and reviving the economy through investment in "green jobs" and has acted as an unofficial envoy at meetings with ministers and officials.
The appeal came as the Australian Government faces pressure over its own 2020 greenhouse target, which will be announced on Monday, along with the final design of its emissions trading scheme.
Australia, Japan, Canada and Russia have been criticised by developing world leaders and environmentalists for coming to the UN talks without a commitment to cut emissions by at least 25 per cent by 2020.
In an address to the conference, Senator Wong said a post-Kyoto treaty must involve all rich nations adopting greenhouse targets and as many developing countries as possible taking steps to limit climate change.
"We encourage other parties to also announce their emission reduction ambitions and demonstrate their willingness to be part of the global outcome," she said.
The Government is expected to announce a scheme to reduce emissions by between 5 and 25 per cent, depending on whether a new climate agreement is reached.
European Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas yesterday joined the call for Australia to cut emissions by 25 to 40 per cent - the overall target range scientists say is necessary to avert dangerous climate change.
In one of three speeches to the conference, Senator Wong warned it would be difficult for Australia to meet its long-term target of a 60 per cent cut by 2050 due to its growing population and energy-intensive economy, but said strong action would ultimately secure and create jobs.
She also called on countries to stop blocking a plan to allow rich nations to meet part of their emissions target by paying for clean coal projects in poor countries using the clean development mechanism.
The first day of ministerial talks continued the stand-off between the developed and developing nations, with some major rich nations resisting deep cuts unless emerging giants China and India also made commitments.
Developing nations say the rich must take the lead in securing an unprecedented climate treaty at a meeting in Copenhagen next year.
The conference has also been stilted because of the financial meltdown and the effective absence of the US - in presidential transition - as a serious negotiator.
Former US presidential candidate John Kerry, who is leading a senate delegation in Poland, said the US would have a climate policy in place within a year that would let it join a worldwide climate treaty for the first time.
Low-lying Pacific nation Tuvalu called for action by both rich countries and emerging economies such as China. Tuvalu Prime Minister Apisai Ielemia said his people had a basic human right to exist as a nation forever and were not contemplating migration.
"We need assurance that development does not cause other countries, like our own, to suffer. We cannot sink while others rise," he said.
The historic deal to cut carbon dioxide by a fifth by 2020 was secured despite an economic crisis by allowing a myriad of exemptions for industry, sparking criticism from environmental groups.
"This is a flagship EU policy with no captain, a mutinous crew and several gaping holes in it," said Sanjeev Kumar of environment pressure group WWF.
But French President Nicolas Sarkozy rejected that view, saying: "This is quite historic."
"You will not find another continent in this world that has given itself such binding rules as we have just adopted," he added.
The agreement in Brussels came after a year-long battle dominated by a struggle between eastern and western Europe over the costs.
The nine east European nations were seen as the final blockage to agreeing a package of measures aimed at tackling climate change but which will ramp up costs for their highly polluting coal-fired power sectors.