U.S. President Barack Obama and other world leaders are calling for a new global commitment to protect the Earth from dangerous greenhouse gas emissions.
Addressing this year’s United Nations Climate Summit on Tuesday, Obama said the United States, the world's second biggest polluter, takes responsibility for its role in damaging the global environment, but that all nations must act together to combat the worsening problem of climate change.
At the largest high-level gathering on climate in years, Obama called on world leaders to reduce emissions and invest in clean energy, saying it is time to take action against what he called the urgent and growing threat posed by rising temperatures.
"The climate is changing faster than our efforts to address it. The alarm bells keep ringing, our citizens keep marching," he said. "We cannot pretend we do not hear them. We have to answer the call."
The U.S. leader said the United States has reduced pollution by more than any other nation, adding that his administration has taken measures to cut carbon emissions by 300 million metric tons through the year 2030.
He then urged other nations to take similar measures, saying no one gets a pass, or is exempt, from the effort.
“Today, I call on all countries to join us — not next year, or the year after, but right now, because no nation can meet this global threat alone.”
That effort, Obama said, includes China, the world's biggest carbon polluter, whose vice premier, Zhang Gaoli, he met with on the sidelines of the summit before his speech. Obama said they agreed that their countries, with the world's two biggest economies, must take responsibility to lead the effort to curb carbon emissions.
The president also said the U.S. is on track to cuts its carbon pollution 17 percent by 2020 compared to 2005 levels. The 28-nation European Union said that by 2030, its carbon emissions would be 40 percent below the 1990 level.
The summit has shown the sharp divisions that exist between industrialized countries and those with developing economies that see environmental restrictions as a threat to growth.
Minutes after Obama spoke, the Chinese vice premier called for developing countries to be allowed to have more relaxed carbon emission restrictions than industrialized nations.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon opened the summit by calling for the world's nations to adopt a "new course" to protect the global environment from the carbon emissions.
"Climate change threatens hard won peace, prosperity, opportunity for billions of people," he said. "Now today, we must set the world on a new course."
Ban said the world should be carbon neutral by the end of the 21st century.
Leaders from 125 nations gathered at the one-day summit as environmental activists looked to build momentum for adoption of a global pact to curb emissions at a Paris conference in late 2015.
As the summit got under way, French President Francois Hollande said his country would contribute $1 billion in the coming years to a U.N. fund to help poorer nations cope with climate change, matching an earlier pledge from Germany. The EU said it would contribute $3.9 billion.
There were two prominent no-shows at the U.N. climate conclave, with the leaders of China and India, another large carbon emitter, skipping the event and instead sending lower-ranking officials. Several national leaders spoke at the summit, including Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga of the Pacific island nation of Tuvalu, which faces being wiped out by rising sea water.
Earth's temperatures are increasing, with greenhouse gases trapped in the atmosphere a key contributor. The U.S. has reported that temperatures for the June-to-August period this year were the highest ever; international agreement on how to address climate change, however, has been difficult to achieve, with negotiations collapsing at a Copenhagen conference in 2009.
Before leaving Washington for his speech in New York, Obama signed an executive order requiring U.S. agencies to take climate change into consideration when investing in development programs overseas.
The White House said in a statement the programs and investments will be designed to help communities deal with the effects of climate change.
On Monday, the World Bank announced that 73 national and 22 regional governments, together with about 1,000 companies, will join forces to push for policies that encourage a shift to cleaner energy technologies.
That coalition includes countries like China, South Africa, Russia and the Marshall Islands, and companies like British Airways, Unilever and Swiss cement manufacturer Holcim. The United States, the World Bank's largest single financial supporter, was absent from the list.
Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.