UNITED NATIONS - Growing U.S. support for U.N. initiatives is raising hopes among those who want to see the world community take immediate and concrete action to tackle climate change, although their optimism is also tinged with scepticism.
"So far, the response by the world's governments has been less than sufficient," said U.N. Secretary General-Ban Ki-moon at a news conference held outside the world body's headquarters in an open space filled with leafy trees.
In pushing the U.N. agenda on climate change, Ban has invited world leaders to discuss this issue for one day on Sep. 22 before they participate in the General Assembly's annual debate.
The goal of the September summit is to mobilise the "political momentum needed to seal the deal" in Copenhagen, Denmark, "on a fair, effective and scientifically ambitious new climate framework," Ban said.
"We have a lot of work to do, and not a lot of time," he said. "This is the time to act. All nations, and all leaders, have a stake in a successful outcome in Copenhagen. Climate change involves everyone."
Ban was joined by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who endorsed the "Seal the Deal" campaign and said his administration would organise a series of events in the city when the world leaders come here in September.
The liberal Republican mayor of one of the world's most populous cities said he hopes that the summit on climate change will help spotlight "the urgent need for action, both to slow the pace of climate change, and also to adapt to the environmental effects of global warming."
"We have to do what is right for the world and what is right for America," said Bloomberg. "The action is needed on a global level, [but] we need to shrink our climate footprint."
His remarks allude to the fact that for years the United States has refused to take a substantive role in addressing the issue of global warming. The U.S. is responsible for 35 percent of carbon emissions, although its share in the world population is just 5 percent.
U.N. experts on population and environment say big cities like New York are responsible for at least 75 percent of the resources, including a huge quantity of fossil fuels, consumed by the global population.
According to the U.N., with more than three billion people residing in the cities, for the first time the world's urban population now exceeds the number of those living in rural areas.
The U.N.'s Millennium Ecosystem Assessment report in 2007 shows that before the industrial era, nearly half of Earth's land surface was covered with forests. Today, that proportion has dwindled to 10 percent.
During the news conference, Bloomberg seemed convinced that the current economic crisis in the United States and the world required a deeper understanding of the issue of environmental disasters and their impact on the lives of millions of working people.
"Going green is the formula for economic recovery," he stressed.
Steve Howard of the Climate Group, an independent organisation trying to bring government and business leaders together to address the issue of climate change, agrees with Bloomberg.
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"Influential U.S. partnerships and smarter choices will be critical to tackling global warming and setting the world on a pathway to a prosperous low carbon future," he said.
But the low carbon future based on the concept of treating the climate change issue from the business point of view is not acceptable to who look at the environmental issues from the perspective of human rights.
On Tuesday, while Ban and Bloomberg spoke at the news conference in New York, a number of environmental activists, including the top climate scientist James Hansen and the actress Daryl Hannah, were arrested in Coal River Valley, West Virginia.
They were protesting against the destruction of mountains by the coal mining industry. Despite its supportive statements on environmental issues, the Barack Obama administration said it would take different measures but not abolish the strip mining practice.
Tuesday's protest is happening just days before a Congressional hearing titled, "The Impacts of Mountaintop Removal Mining on Water Quality in Appalachia."
"I am not a politician; I am a scientist and a citizen," said Hansen in a statement. "Politicians may have to advocate for halfway measures if they choose. But it is our responsibility to make sure our representatives feel the full force of citizens who speak for what is right, not what is politically expedient."
"Mountaintop removal, providing only a small fraction of our energy, should be abolished," he added.
Two weeks ago, the Obama administration announced steps to end the fast tracking of certain mountaintop removal coal mine permits and to add tougher enforcement in Appalachia.
However, it remains unclear what, if any, improvements this will have on-the-ground in that region, activists say. Without a significant change in policy, mining companies will continue to destroy historic mountain ranges and bury communities' drinking water in toxic waste, they say.
"Every day, mountaintop removal mines use more explosive power than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima," said Bo Webb, who organised the protest. "This is not our traditional way of life, and we do not support the destruction of our land or our communities."
A recent study by the University of Massachusetts found that investment in clean energy projects like wind power and mass transit creates more than three times more jobs than the same amount of spending on the coal industry.
The wind power sector has grown to employ more U.S. workers than coal mining as demand for clean energy has jumped over the past decade.
In New York, without naming the United States and other industrialised nations, the U.N. chief tried to make it clear that the rich nations must take responsibility to reach an agreement in Copenhagen on issues related to global warming.
"We have less than 10 years to halt the rise of greenhouse gas emissions if we are to avoid catastrophic consequences for people and planet," he said. "Now is the time for action."