Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, signalled on Monday that China and India should take on more responsibility for tackling climate change, alongside rich countries.
“I support the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities when it comes to climate change,” Mr Ban said in Bangkok, meaning that developing countries should carry less of the burden for cutting greenhouse gas emissions.
But in words clearly aimed at China and India, two of the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitters which carry no obligation to curb emissions under the current Kyoto protocol, he added: “Yet this principle does not mean that developing countries should do nothing.”
He added: “The credibility of the negotiations that begin in Bali hinges on the participation of major emitters in the developing world.”
The US, backed by Japan and Canada, has said developing countries must take on commitments to curb emissions.
In a report last month, the UN Development Programme said developing countries should cut their emissions by 20 per cent by 2050, while rich countries should cut theirs by 80 per cent in the same time.
China, while resisting outright targets on cutting its emissions, has shown some willingness at the talks to consider ways to curb the growth of its emissions, if given incentives to do so. But India has argued against taking on any commitments, pointing out that its per capita emissions, and those of other developing countries, are much lower than in rich countries, which also bear more responsibility for the emissions already in the atmosphere.
While Mr Ban said he agreed that industrialised countries had to take the lead in combating global warming because of the “burden of their historic responsibility”, he said “now is not the time to look back at what has happened in the past”.
“We must look at the historic responsibility from the perspective of our great grand-children,” said Mr Ban. “They will not question whether you were a developed or developing country. They will look at whether you showed leadership.”
Instead of viewing climate change as merely an environmental issue, he said, “the developing world needs to ... begin approaching it as a development concern”.
He said any “grand bargain” on climate change must include measures to help developing countries, including better funding for clean energy technologies and enhanced research and development co-operation and the transfer of clean technologies.
Mr Ban added that technologies exist to help countries cope with climate change “but what is missing now is political will”. He also said world leaders need to think beyond their own narrow national interests.