US criticised over climate forum

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The Bush administration was criticised yesterday for organising an alternative climate change forum, as the United Nations secretary general and Britain stressed that the UN is the best place to discuss global measures.

"The UN climate process is the appropriate forum for negotiating global action," the UN's Ban Ki-moon, told world leaders and superstars of the climate movement, including the former US vice-president Al Gore and the Governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger, in a veiled attack on President George Bush, who called a competing meeting of 16 major economies in Washington later this week.

The unprecedented global warming summit in New York was convened by Mr Ban to kick-start negotiations on a follow-up treaty to the Kyoto protocol, which expires in 2012. Those talks will begin in earnest in Bali this December. Speakers urged new political momentum on curbing emissions and pressure on America to accept mandatory limits.

Although the Environment Secretary Hilary Benn recognised that "every effort to foster international action" should be welcomed, he said in his speech that "the UN process must be central".

The UN chief also addressed a key American objection to negotiated limits on greenhouse-gas emissions, that it will be too damaging to the United States' economy. "Inaction now will prove the costliest action of all in the long term," he said.

Mr Benn was among delegates insisting that binding emission reductions are the only answer. "We cannot say that often enough," he told reporters. "That means all of us, including the largest economy in the world – the United States."

Mr Bush, who has resisted negotiated caps on emissions and advocates new clean technologies to counter global warming, did not attend the main session but was to join a working dinner. The threat of climate change is set to emerge as the dominant theme of the annual General Assembly of the United Nations, which opens formally today.

Mr Ban told delegates: "This journey begins in Bali this December. It will succeed or fail based on the strength of the leadership and commitment displayed by the people in this hall."