UNITED NATIONS – President Barack Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao each vowed urgent action Tuesday to cool an overheating planet.
The world’s two biggest greenhouse-gas polluting nations were the focus at the U.N.’s unprecedented daylong climate change summit, which drew more than 50 presidents and 35 prime ministers.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon opened the gathering with an appeal to leaders to set aside national interests and think about the future of the globe – and a rebuke for their foot-dragging thus far.
“The climate negotiations are proceeding at glacial speed. The world’s glaciers are now melting faster than human progress to protect them – and us,” the U.N. chief said.
At the end of the summit, Ban and Danish Prime Minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen, who will host the treaty talks, said they were encouraged at the prospects. “This feeling of political momentum – that was very strong,” said Loekke Rasmussen.
Much attention was fixed on Obama’s first U.N. speech, in which he pledged the United States is “determined to act.”
“The threat from climate change is serious, it is urgent and it is growing,” Obama said, after receiving loud applause.
But while Obama campaigned for the presidency vowing to push through stringent cuts in U.S. emissions, he has run up against stiff resistance among Republicans, and the Senate most likely won’t have written climate legislation until after the Copenhagen meeting.
By comparison, Hu runs a command economy and was unencumbered by political opposition. He outlined an ambitious program that included plans to plant enough forest to cover about 150,000 square miles – an area the size of Montana – and generate 15 percent of its energy needs from renewable sources within a decade.
China and the U.S. each account for about 20 percent of all the world’s greenhouse gas pollution, created when coal, natural gas or oil are burned.