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At the UN's Climate Change Event, "False Dichotomy" on Coal, Bush Presented as Supportive

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis

UNITED NATIONS, September 24 -- The obvious questions at the UN's High Level Event on Climate Change on Monday were, will the U.S. support emissions caps or try to undermine them, and will new coal-fired power plants continue to be built, undermining most other mitigation measures? Attempts to ask the first question to President George W. Bush himself proved fruitless: Bush attended a dinner with Ban and others, but then rushed past the press afterwards. Inner City Press managed later to ask Mr. Ban about Bush, video here:

Inner City Press: Did you get any sense, Mr. Secretary-General, from President Bush, of how he viewed the outcome of today, or what will take place in his meeting in D.C. with the major emitting countries?

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon:  He also mentioned that, while he explained how technological innovation can help in addressing these issues, and he explained what he wants to discuss and wants to achieve.  In forthcoming meetings, he has invited all these industrialized countries.  He made it quite clear that what he is going to do was to help the United Nations influence, and the United Nations so that the United Nations can work to address these global warming issues, and I appreciate it for his firm commitment and support for that.

Inner City Press: Was there any discussion of just capping emissions...

The Secretary-General:  Of course, emissions, how to cap emissions was an important issue.  There were some ideas that industrialized countries should set the target and lead this process, but I understood that that is something which we will have to discuss in a negotiating forum. Thank you.

            Prime Minister Stephen Harper of Canada also told Inner City Press that "President Bush made clear publicly and privately that he view [his meeting in DC] as assisting the UN process by trying to bring the parties together." We'll see.

Ban Ki-moon watches Yvo de Boer answer Inner City Press' question on coal

            On coal, Inner City Press asked Ban and Yvo de Boer:

Inner City Press: There is an analysis that says that the continued construction and use of coal-fired plants negates a lot of the impact of other efforts by companies to reduce their emissions or to reduce the emissions of cars. So earlier today, Al Gore called for a moratorium on the construction of new coal plants until the technology exists to do capture and store. Mr. De Boer, on [Saturday] you said that China and India need to keep using coal and that they have abundant coal. So I am wondering how you respond to what Al Gore called for today?

      And Mr. Secretary-General, how do you choose either between the two approaches or balance combating climate change with poverty alleviation in countries like China and India and their use of coal?

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon: Maybe I will first answer before Mr. De Boer answers in greater detail and in a more professional manner. I will try to answer you in a more general way.

      As I clearly stated during my summary, we are not asking developing countries to choose between development and addressing this issue. Both issues should be taken care of. This is our goal. According to countries, there may be differences of technological level; developing countries have a lower level of technologies. But the important thing is that we need to have some research and development to find renewable resources, alternate sources of energy. There may be coal-based energies, nuclear power, and other bio-fuels or wind-power-generated energies. So we need to look at all the possibilities to find cleaner technologies that are sustainable. Maybe Mr. De Boer can answer in a more detailed manner.

Yvo Boer: In order to grow its economy and eradicate poverty, China is building one power plant every week, and most of those power plants are coal-fired. It is, to my mind, inconceivable that you would stop building coal-fired power plants today in countries like China and India that have an abundance of cheap coal. The challenge, as the Secretary-General indicated, is to shift towards a modern energy mix, a clean energy mix, but also to use clean coal technology and, perhaps in the future, also carbon capture and storage to ensure that you can use that coal without a climate impact.

            Afterwards Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper similarly told Inner City Press that "hydrocarbons will remain an important source of energy," specifying that any binding caps on emissions would have to be based on "intensity per unit of production," and not per capita, as the latter method of calculation would mean that two-thirds of emission in the development world would not be covered for twenty years.

             Greenpeace's Daniel Mittler, in an interview with Inner City Press, said that it is a "false dichotomy that development needs coal and that you can't have development without coal." He said that the capture and store technology referred to won't be available for at least ten years. Inner City Press asked about Germany, where new coal plants are being building. "They are planned," Mittler said. "Germany can't deliver leadership... if they don't stop" the plants.  Inner City Press has previous written on this topic. Attempts to ask Germany chancellor Angela Merkel were unsuccessful. She left Ban Ki-moon's climate change dinner on the heels of South Africa's Thabo Mbeki, and did to stop to speak with the Press. We'll have more on this.

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Click here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army. Click here for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund.  Video Analysis here

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