UNITED NATIONS (AP) _ Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed hope that the U.S. will take a leadership role in combatting climate change _ which he said poses as much danger to mankind as war and is likely to fuel future conflicts.
After a Thursday address to hundreds of students from around the world, Ban was asked what he thought about the rejection by President Bush's administration of the Kyoto protocol, the 1997 pact that requires 35 industrial nations to cut their global-warming gases by an average 5 percent below 1990 levels by 2012.
Ban said he thought there was now an ``active discussion'' going on within the U.S. government regarding Kyoto, and that he hopes this debate among lawmakers in the world's biggest polluter will lead to more action.
``I hope that the United States _ while they have taken a role in innovative technologies as well as promoting cleaner energies _ will also take lead in this very important and urgent issue,'' he said.
Ban underscored what he said were the dangers of climate change _ namely that it posed as grave a threat to the world as war.
``The majority of the U.N.'s work still focuses on preventing and ending conflict,'' Ban said. ``But the danger posed by war to all of humanity _ and to our planet _ is at least matched by the climate crisis and global warming.''
In particular, Ban said, the fight over resources that become scarcer will fuel fighting.
``In coming decades, changes in our environment and the resulting upheavals, from droughts to inundated coastal areas to loss of arable lands, are likely to become a major driver of war and conflict,'' he said.
While calling on the U.S. for leadership in battling climate change, Ban said that it would require the work of all nations.
``These issues transcend borders,'' he said. ``That is why protecting the world's environment is largely beyond the capacity of individual countries. Only concerted and coordinated international action, supported and sustained by individual initiative, will be sufficient.''
The Bush administration argues the Kyoto protocol would hurt the U.S. economy. Instead, the White House says it is spending almost $3 billion a year on energy-technology research and development combat climate change.
Ban, who took over as U.N. chief on Jan. 1, welcomed that effort, but said it's critical that the international community come up with a new strategy to deal with global warming after Kyoto expires in 2012. He added that climate change will be a top priority during his five-year term.
Like others, Ban noted the growing debate about climate change,
After years of arguing that not enough was known about the problem, Bush referred to global warming as an established fact in his State of the Union speech in January, and acknowledged that climate change needed to be addressed.
At a climate change forum in Washington last month, foreign lawmakers said that after hearing from U.S. lawmakers, they sensed a shift in Washington toward greater cooperation with other countries on global warming.
``I am encouraged to know that, in industrialized countries from which leadership is most needed, awareness is growing,'' Ban told the conference organized by the United Nations International School.
Bush's State of the Union address was the impetus, in part, for a proposal by the U.N. Environment Program to hold a summit on global warming later this year. Ban has not said if he will move forward with a summit.
But he said he would discuss how best to confront the problem with world leaders at a meeting of the Group of Eight industrialized countries in June.