UN brings top players together for debate on climate change

Eds: General Assembly climate debate is scheduled to open at 9:30 a.m. EST.

By EDITH M. LEDERER

Associated Press Writer

UNITED NATIONS (AP) -- The U.N. General Assembly is bringing together business leaders, activists and government officials for a debate on climate change starting Monday -- an effort to keep up the momentum for a new treaty by 2009 to fight global warming.

The two-day session is a follow-up to the international climate conference in December on the Indonesian resort island of Bali, where delegates from nearly 190 nations agreed to adopt a blueprint to control global warming gases before the end of next year.

Michael Bloomberg, New York's climate-activist mayor who attended the Bali conference, will be the keynote speaker, and special guests include British billionaire Richard Branson, who has decided to invest heavily in "biofuels," and actress Daryl Hannah. Nearly 100 countries have signed up to speak and 20 are sending ministers, assembly spokesman Janos Tisovszky said Friday.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who says his No. 1 priority is persuading the world to agree to new controls on global warming gases before the end of 2009, will address Monday's opening session along with General Assembly President Srgjan Kerim.

"The meeting is intended to give support to the Bali road map process," Tisovsky said, and to build partnerships between the United Nations, business, nongovernmental organizations, and civic groups.

In key reports last year, a U.N. network of climate and other scientists warned of severe consequences -- from rising seas, droughts, severe weather, species extinction and other effects -- without sharp cutbacks in emissions of the industrial, transportation and agricultural gases blamed for global warming.

To avoid the worst, the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said greenhouse gas emissions should be reduced by 25 percent to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 -- and by at least half by 2050.

The delegates in Bali were charged with launching negotiations to replace the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012. It requires 36 industrial nations to radically reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2012.

The United States is the only major industrial country that did not ratify the Kyoto Protocol.

A new agreement needs to be adopted by the end of 2009 to ensure a smooth transition to a new post-Kyoto regime.

Kerim, a Macedonian diplomat who is president of the 192-nation General Assembly, said cutting greenhouse gases alone will not be enough to pull island nations, sub-Saharan Africa and other particularly vulnerable parts of the world back from the brink of irreversible harm.

"Inventing new technologies, renewable energies, investing more in research and development, is also a very viable way and remedy for resolving the problem," he said.

The two-day debate follows a recent report by the secretary-general which said global warming could cost the world up to $20 trillion over two decades for cleaner energy sources and do the most harm to people who can least afford to adapt.