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|Don't put off
action on global warming just because times are lean — that's the
message Al Gore, world environmental leaders and U.S. executives
sent Friday to President Barack Obama.
Worries are mounting that economic troubles are sapping momentum, in
the U.S. Congress and in other world capitals, for costly investment
in clean energy and cutting carbon emissions.
"The oceans are being choked off of oxygen. They are dying as a
result of this process we are seeing before our eyes the melting of
the polar ice cap," Gore said at the World Economic Forum in Davos,
Switzerland. "The assumption that we can continue on this path is an
assumption that is collapsing."
Many countries are looking to Obama for aggressive action after
frustration at the Bush administration's refusal to sign
international pacts on reducing emissions of carbon, blamed for
Gore, U.N. climate chief Yvo de Boer and executives were discussing
the fate of a U.N. meeting in Copenhagen this December aiming for a
global agreement on reducing emissions. Questions remain over the
new U.S. government's position on the Copenhagen meeting, which is
seen as crucial.
"We need an agreement this year, not next year or some other time,"
Still, Gore expressed optimism in Obama, calling him "the greenest
person in the room" for making environmental funding a big chunk of
the $819 billion economic stimulus bill passed by the U.S. House of
Representatives this week.
But he and other panelists acknowledged that the financial crisis
will be a key challenge. Governments could shy from forcing
polluting industries to pay for their carbon emissions or using
taxpayer money for expensive new clean energy investments — even if
they prove more efficient in the long term.
"Undeniably the financial crisis is making things more difficult,"
U.N. climate chief Yvo de Boer, told Associated Press Television
News. "There is a shortage of finance, you see that many renewable
energy projects are being put on the back burner."
But he added, "If you look at the economic recovery packages of the
European Union, the United States, Japan, China — they are all using
this as an opportunity to change the direction of economic growth,
and that I find encouraging."
Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who will host the
Copenhagen meeting, urged countries to agree to reduce global
emissions by 50 percent by 2050, and said industrialized countries
should reduce by 80 percent.
"We have to be vigilant so that the crisis does not derail this," he
told the AP.
The onus is not only on Obama. Climate negotiators are looking
anxiously at developing giants and heavy emitters China and India.
And Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin disappointed some
activists with his non-committal stance on climate change in his
keynote address at the Davos forum.
Media magnate Rupert Murdoch, chief executive of News Corp., joined
the call to ensure that investment in clean energy doesn't collapse.
"There's a real risk that the alternative energy industry could die
again," he said later. "I really hope that the new president will
not let that happen."
The head of the New York Stock Exchange, Duncan Niederauer, agreed.
"We've got to stay the course on energy efficiency," he said. "It's
time we get serious about it and push it through."