United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon talks during the opening ceremony of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Doha on December 4, 2012. (Photo: AFP/Getty Images)
DOHA, Qatar (AP) -- Rich countries are to blame for climate change and should take the lead in forging a global climate pact by 2015, a deadline that "must be met," the head of the United Nations said Wednesday.
On the sidelines of international climate talks in Qatar, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said it was "only fair and reasonable that the developed world should bear most of the responsibility" in fighting the gradual warming of the planet, since it's pretty much all their fault.
Ban's comments echoed the concerns of China and other developing countries, which say rich nations have a historical responsibility for global warming because their factories released carbon emissions into the atmosphere long before the alleged effects were known.
"The climate change phenomenon has been caused by the industrialization of the developed world," Ban told The Associated Press. "It's only fair and reasonable that the developed world should bear most of the responsibility."
Many rich nations, including the U.S. and European Union, say the firewall between developed and developing countries that has guided the two-decade-old climate process in the past no longer reflects the world today and isn't helpful in dealing with the problem.
Most of the emissions now come from the developing world, and China has overtaken the U.S. to become the world's top carbon polluter.
"Rich countries will need to do more than poor countries, that is clear," European Union climate commissioner Connie Hedegaard conceded. "But all of us will have to do the maximum we can because otherwise we can't cope with climate change."
How to divide the burden of emissions cuts is at the core of discussions to create a new global climate treaty that would apply to all nations. The only binding pact so far, the Kyoto Protocol, only covers the emissions of industrialized countries.
Last year, governments decided that the new treaty should be adopted in 2015 and enter force five years later. The Doha meeting is supposed to produce a work plan to ensure that the treaty is ready by 2015.
"This deadline must be met. There is no time to waste, no time to lose for us," Ban warned.
"Climate change is happening much, much faster than one would understand," he added. "The science has plainly made it clear: it is the human beings' behavior which caused climate change, therefore the solution must come from us."
Therefore, a global transfer of wealth is vital. He stopped short of explicitly demanding a de-industrialization of the West, though.
Ban came to the negotiations in Doha in an attempt to "accelerate the process" of shifting the world to a "clean energy" pathway, arguing that it is "imperative" that the treaty is extended, because it is "the only existing legally binding commitment when it comes to climate change."
Dangerous climate effects could include flooding of coastal cities and island nations, disruptions to agriculture and drinking water, the spread of diseases and the extinction of species, according to the United Nations.
A number of scientists still question whether the warming seen in recent decades is due to human activities, such as carbon emissions from the burning of fossil fuels. On Tuesday, Ban said it was time to "prove wrong all these doubts on climate change."
Global warming skeptic John Christy of the University of Alabama said Ban's statement was "representative of a religion, not science."
"Science requires questioning (i.e. skepticism) those who wish to stifle debate using arguments from authority (not arguments from evidence)," Christy wrote in an email.