From Lara Marlow & Harry McGee - Irish Times Tuesday September 22nd

China set to lead global fight against climate damage LARA MARLOWE in New York and HARRY McGEE

THE HEAD of climate change at the United Nations injected an unexpected last-minute burst of hope into prospects for today’s summit on climate change, predicting that China, now the world’s biggest greenhouse gas polluter, would become the “world leader” on the issue.

Yvo de Boer said he expected the Chinese president Hu Jintao to announce a series of measures “that will take Chinese emissions very significantly away from where they would have been and are”.

Mr de Boer added: “This suite of policies will take China to be the world leader on addressing climate change . . . It will be quite ironic to hear that tomorrow expressed in a country that is firmly convinced that China is doing nothing to address climate change.”

Expectations from today’s summit were so low the president of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, yesterday warned preparations for the Copenhagen summit in December were “dangerously close to deadlock”. Some 190 countries are meant to reach an agreement in Copenhagen to replace the Kyoto accords, which will expire in 2012.

In another sign of increased willingness to tackle the issue, British prime minister Gordon Brown proposed that heads of state and government, not environment ministers as previously planned, attend Copenhagen.

If China makes a strong commitment to reduce emissions, the US, which is the world’s second-biggest producer of greenhouse gases, will come under renewed pressure. President Barack Obama has made climate change a priority, and a draft Bill passed in the House in June, but the issue has been sidelined by healthcare reform and the Senate may not act on it until after Copenhagen.

Mr Obama’s mettle as a world leader will be tested every day this week. He will address the climate change summit today, and the United Nations General Assembly tomorrow. On Thursday he will become the first US president ever to chair a meeting of the UN Security Council. He will then move on to the G20 summit in Pittsburgh to oversee reform of the world financial system.

His objectives include relaunching stalled negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians, persuading Russia and China to put pressure on Iran to stop its suspected military nuclear programme, and progress towards nuclear disarmament.

On the sidelines of the climate change summit today, Mr Obama will hold bilateral meetings with the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, and the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, followed by a trilateral meeting with both men. Although the White House expects no breakthroughs, the president thought it necessary to show his determination to move forward.

Attention will focus on the theatrics, particularly the two “untouchables” of the world forum: the Libyan dictator Muammar Gadafy and Iran’s president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Mr Gadafy is to attend the General Assembly for the first time in his 40 years in power. He abandoned plans to sleep in a tent in New Jersey, because local residents objected following the recent liberation of Abdel Basset al-Megrahi, the only person convicted for the bombing of Pan-Am flight 103, which killed 270 people in 1988. Speaking before his departure for New York, Taoiseach Brian Cowen said he was attending the special meeting because he wanted to help give impetus to the efforts to reach an ambitious international agreement on climate change in Copenhagen.

“Climate change is the most important and pressing issue on the world’s agenda. Reaching a legally-binding international agreement later this year is vital not only for our future prosperity but for the well-being and future of our planet,” he said.

Earlier Mr Cowen met with the business group the Irish Corporate Leaders Group on Climate Change, to receive its communique on the challenges presented by global warming.

Minister for the Environment John Gormley praised the document. “They recognise, as I do, the requirement for major measures across all parts of Irish society in tackling climate change,” he said.