KIGALI The world will not forgive leaders gathered in Rwanda this week if they fail to back a proposed agreement to cut greenhouse gases, a top U.N. official said on Thursday, calling the deal an easy one to achieve.
Representatives from about 150 nations heard the appeal as they opened negotiations on a deal to reduce the use of factory-made hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) gases, which are used in refrigerators, air conditioners and aerosols.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry landed in Rwanda on Thursday evening and will join the talks. U.S. officials said they were optimistic an agreement could be reached at the meeting, which ends on Friday.
"No one, frankly, will forgive you if you cannot find a compromise at this conference," said Erik Solheim, executive director of United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP).
"This is one of the cheapest, one of the easiest, one of the lowest-hanging fruits in the entire arsenal of climate mediation," he told the opening session in the Rwandan capital Kigali.
Scientists say a quick reduction of HFCs could dramatically slow climate change, avoiding perhaps 0.5 degree Celsius (0.9 Fahrenheit) of a projected rise in average temperatures by 2100.
Solheim said failure to act would contribute to more extreme droughts and stronger storms of the type that hit Haiti last week, killing about 1,000 people.
"Expect more of this extreme weather if we don’t fight against climate change," he said.
Among developing nations, India has been under the greatest pressure to sign a deal. India wants poor nations to be allowed to peak their HFC emissions between the years of 2024 to 2026, in order to avoid hurting growth, said Anil Dave, minister of the environment, forest and climate change.
Other countries, such as the United States, want the peak to come earlier, at 2020 to 2022, Dave told a press conference. He said India had already reduced its time frame in return for promises from developed countries to help pay for new technologies using cleaner gases.
"This is a very calibrated and a very positioned response based on our national interests," he said.
The Kigali talks are part of the 1987 Montreal Protocol, which helped protect the ozone layer by cutting the use of chlorofluorocarbons. The ozone layer shields the planet from ultraviolet rays that can cause skin cancer.
That deal prevented 2 million cases of skin cancer, Solheim said, adding he had been diagnosed with the disease himself.
(Writing by Katharine Houreld; Editing by Edmund Blair and Tom Heneghan)