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Obama urges world to follow US lead on climate

9/23/2014, 5:35 p.m.
UNITED NATIONS (AP) — In the first international test for his climate-change strategy, President Barack Obama pressed world leaders Tuesday ...
United States President Barack Obama addresses the Climate Summit, at United Nations headquarters, Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2014. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — In the first international test for his climate-change strategy, President Barack Obama pressed world leaders Tuesday to follow the United States' lead on the issue, even as a United Nations summit revealed the many obstacles that still stand in the way of wider agreements to reduce heat-trapping pollution.

"The United States has made ambitious investments in clean energy and ambitious reductions in our carbon emissions," Obama said. "Today I call on all countries to join us, not next year or the year after that, but right now. Because no nation can meet this global threat alone."

But none of the pledges made at Tuesday's one-day meeting was binding. The largest-ever gathering of world leaders to discuss climate was designed to lay the groundwork for a new global climate-change treaty. It also revealed the sharp differences that divide countries on matters such as deforestation, carbon pollution and methane leaks from oil and gas production:

— Brazil, home to the Amazon rainforest, said it would not sign a pledge to halt deforestation by 2030.

— The United States decided not to join 73 countries in supporting a price on carbon, which Congress has indicated it would reject.

— And minutes after Obama said "nobody gets a pass," Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli insisted the world treat developing nations, including China, differently than developed nations, allowing them to release more heat-trapping pollution. China, the No. 1 carbon-polluting nation, signed on in support of pricing carbon and vowed to stop the rise of carbon-dioxide emissions as soon as possible.

"Today we must set the world on a new course," said United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, who added that pricing carbon was critical. "Climate change is the defining issue of our age. It is defining our present. Our response will define our future."

In some ways, the summit, which was part of the annual U.N. General Assembly, answered that call.

The European Union said its member nations next month were set to approve a plan that would cut greenhouse gases back to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. The EU also called for using renewable energy for 27 percent of the bloc's power needs and increasing energy efficiency by 30 percent.

The United States will not release its new emissions targets until early next year.

"There were not that many surprises," said Connie Hedegaard, the top climate official for the European Commission, referring to Obama's speech.

Hedegaard said the first-ever limits on carbon from power plants, proposed by Obama back in June, were "a good signal to send, but after today we will still have to wait until first quarter of 2015 to see how ambitious the United States will be."

By 2020, China will reduce its emissions per gross domestic product by 45 percent from 2005 levels, Zhang said. But because economic growth in China has more than tripled since 2005, that means Chinese carbon pollution can continue to soar. Still, outside environmentalists hailed the country's promises because they went beyond any of China's previous statements.