NAIROBI - World leaders meeting in London in April should kick-start a "Green New Deal" to fight climate change and revive the crippled global economy on a sustainable basis, a major U.N. environment meeting was told on Monday.
High on the agenda for more than 100 environment ministers gathered in Kenya this week will be how to draw attention to "green" issues amid job losses and worldwide financial turmoil.
The U.N. Environment Program (UNEP) says political efforts to curb pollution, protect forests and avert global warming have failed, and the world needs to learn from U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt's response to the Great Depression.
"We face the unprecedented reality that climate change may very well be the more important economic development than what happens on Wall Street or the financial markets, or in our industries," UNEP executive director Achim Steiner told the start of the February 16-20 meeting.
"The question truly is, can the environment afford to be put on the waiting line, or is it indeed part of the solution?"
A U.N. report presented on Monday at the conference in Nairobi called on G20 leaders to consider proposals for a "Green New Deal," and develop framework ideas toward securing a global climate change agreement at talks in Copenhagen in December.
U.N. climate scientists says rising greenhouse gas concentrations -- which are up by about a third since the Industrial Revolution -- are stoking warming likely to cause floods, droughts, heatwaves, rising seas and extinctions.
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More than 190 nations have agreed to negotiate a new global deal by the end of 2009 to succeed the U.N.'s Kyoto Protocol, which sets carbon dioxide limits for 37 industrialized nations.
Steiner said huge banking bailouts had been mobilized in weeks, but the response to climate change had been lethargic.
"We must ensure that trillions of dollars are not spent by this generation to save its economy of today, without any answers as to what the next generation, that has to repay the debt ... will do in terms of jobs for tomorrow," he said.
In a speech read on his behalf, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the world was reeling from multiple crises, and people were worried about food security, jobs and their savings. An "environmental thread" ran through the story, he said.
Soaring food prices last year had brought intense focus not just on agriculture and trade issues, but on the inflationary role of biofuel production, Ban said.
"Wildly fluctuating crude oil costs illustrated once again our dependence on the fossil fuels that are causing climate change and the short-sighted economic vision that has precipitated the current financial turmoil," he said.
(Editing by David Clarke)