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Financial crisis no excuse to slow carbon fight: UN climate chief

| Sourced From AFP |

WARSAW (AFP) The world financial crisis must not become an excuse for backsliding on efforts to curb global carbon emissions, a top UN environmental official warned Thursday.

While acknowledging the severity of the financial turmoil, Yvo de Boer, who oversees the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) said: “To use the financial crisis as an excuse not to act on climate change would basically amount to setting yourself up for the next financial crisis.”

De Boer spoke at a Warsaw conference of governments and leaders from the energy, steel, cement and aluminium sectors, which are among the major carbon dioxide emitters, the main greenhouse gas blamed for global warming.

Many businesses and governments, notably in developing nations but also in the West, have expressed concern that ever-deeper commitments to slash carbon emissions will dent their economies in difficult times. De Boer argued that they must think further ahead.

“For example, within the next five to 10 years we will be replacing about 40 percent of the power-generating capacity worldwide. If, in the light of the financial crisis, a decision is made to go for cheap and dirty technology, as in the past, that technology will still be around in 30 to 50 years,” he said.

“The challenge for industry is how it can be part of the solution and not part of the problem,” he later told reporters.

Poland is hosting a string of environment-themed events in the run up to a December 1-12 climate conference under the UNFCCC in Poznan.

The goal of the Poznan conference is to pave the way for talks in Copenhagen in December 2009, when a new UN climate deal is meant to be agreed.

The deal would take effect from the end of 2012, when the current provisions of the Kyoto Protocol expire.

“The financial crisis will throw a shadow over the climate change negotiations,” De Boer told reporters.

A sluggish economy may well mean lower emissions, but the poor are the hardest-hit by the slump, he said.

In addition, he warned that the credit crunch means problems getting capital for environmentally-friendly technology, and that falling oil prices give less incentive to invest in cleaner alternatives.

At the Warsaw meeting, leading business groups insisted they were not seeking special favours.

Ian Christmas, head of the World Organisation of the Steel Industry, whose member companies account for 90 percent of global production, acknowledged that his sector churns out two tonnes of carbon dioxide for every tonne of steel it produced.

“We start from the fundamental principle that our solution must have the greatest impact on the problem, which is a reduction in global emissions, and that in our industry all major steel-producing countries need to be engaged,” Christmas told the conference.

“We believe we must work within the UN Framework Convention,” he said.

Jean Desazars de Montgailhard, vice-president of the French-based cement giant Lafarge, said his industry was also well aware that it produces for five to six percent of global emissions.

“This is a very serious issue for which we feel responsible, and we’re taking it very seriously,” he said, noting that 19 leading companies had come together to try to lessen their environmental impact.

“The best programme to address climate change challenges will consist, I think, of a mix of government-led policies and industry initiatives, a combination of regulations and self-discipline,” he added.

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