Top political and financial leaders at the World Economic Forum in Davos say recent natural disasters, along with Obama's inauguration announcement this week that he's making the battle against rising temperatures a pillar of his second term, could rev up the glacially slow climate pact negotiations and revive fundraising for global action to cool the planet.
"Unless we take action on climate change, future generations will be roasted, toasted, fried and grilled," International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde told participants at Davos.
The U.N.'s climate chief, Christiana Figueras, told The Associated Press in an interview Thursday that Obama's emphasis on climate "definitely is a political boost." She said Hurricane Sandy and drought in the Midwest last year helped push climate change back onto the U.S. political debate.
"We also need to see clearly much more engagement from the United States, we need to a confirmation from the new leadership in China that they remain on course and are willing to engage further. From the Europeans, we need to see that they also remain on course," Figueras said. "And then all of the emerging economies, in addition to China, need to begin to explore the opportunities that they have."
The U.N. climate talks, now two decades in the making, have so far failed to reduce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions that most scientists say are warming the Earth.
Participants at the Davos forum -- which identifies extreme weather as one of the top three risks to the global economy
-- called for global action.
Until now, rich and poor countries have accused U.S. leaders of hampering the global fight against climate change, which scientists say is causing a rise in temperatures and sea levels, threatening island nations and other low-lying areas, and shifting weather patterns to produce more droughts, floods and devastating storms.
Figueras, the daughter of a former Costa Rican president, and Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla both said their country could serve as an example.
"Costa Rica is already producing 90 percent of the energy we are consuming from renewable sources," Chinchilla told AP. "We are encouraging the policies of many different companies
-- many are already adopting the right policies. For example, in the agricultural sector, we already have coffee which is certified carbon-neutral coffee."
European Union Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard called the battle against global warming the greatest economic challenge of this century.
Several CEOs of major banks and businesses said there have been robust discussions at Davos on potential private financing for "green" technologies to produce cleaner sources of energy.
So far, nations have ponied up about $30 billion toward the $100 billion a year goal by 2020 set at Copenhagen's U.N. climate talks in 2009.
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A U.N. climate conference in Doha, Qatar, agreed in December to extend the Kyoto Protocol, a treaty that limits the greenhouse gas output of some rich countries, and agreed to adopt a new global climate pact by 2015. But hopes for stronger U.S. leadership in the ongoing U.N. climate talks were dimmed when legislation to cap emissions stalled in Congress.
"We're coming out of two years of climate silence," said Fred Krupp, president of the U.S.-based Environmental Defense Fund. "The impacts of extreme weather are now affecting everybody in the wallet."
Krupp said while no one is going to invest in unprofitable new technologies, a growing number of clean-energy investments are highly profitable.
Nations also agreed at the U.N. climate talks in Copenhagen to set a goal of limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit). But because of inaction, Figueras said, the world is now on "somewhere between a 4 and 6 degree (Celsius) trajectory."
"But the door is not closed," she quickly added. "We have the technology, we have the capital. We have the possibility."
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says one of his top hopes for 2013 is to reach a new agreement on climate change.
"Slowly but steadily, we are coming to realize the risks of a carbon-based economy," he told the forum Thursday. "Those supposedly longer-term issues are actually silent crises with us today: the death of children from preventable diseases; the melting of the polar ice caps because of climate change. ... Let not our inaction today lead to harsh judgment tomorrow."
Prince Albert II of Monaco, whose foundation focuses on climate change and other environmental issues, said Obama's inauguration speech gave a welcome lift toward collective action.
"That can only be positive, because we need to have the U.S. on board," he told the AP.
But Thomas Donohue, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said despite Obama's speech there would still be resistance.
"While the president and his colleagues will pursue what we believe is an aggressive climate change policy, they're not going to get it through the Congress," Donahoe predicted. "It's going to be done on a regulatory basis ... and that's going to create a different approach to dealing with this very important but controversial subject."
Press; By JOHN HEILPRIN]
Heilprin can be reached
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