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Penny Wong on Copenhagen: 'Our Greatest Opportunity'

Australia's Minister of Climate Change and Water Penny Wong at Asia Society on Sept. 23, 2009. (Elsa Ruiz/Asia Society)

Australia's Minister of Climate Change and Water Penny Wong at Asia Society on Sept. 23, 2009. (Elsa Ruiz/Asia Society)

NEW YORK, September 23, 2009 – The global community must do everything it can to reach a deal at the United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Copenhagen but still has "a long way to go," said Australia's Minister of Climate Change and Water Penny Wong.

“This December, we have our greatest opportunity to act. The reality is that small steps will not be enough,” Wong said.

Speaking at the Asia Society headquarters in New York, she added that each nation must expedite its efforts if an agreement is to be reached: “We need to be going flat out, at full throttle all the way until Copenhagen.”

Wong is among a host of diplomats from nearly 200 countries who will gather December 7 in Denmark to negotiate a new global pact to tackle climate change. The UN conference is the result of a 2007 agreement made in Bali, Indonesia to construct a successor to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.

“We’ve seen a small step forward,” Wong said refering to Tuesday's opening of the UN’s climate change summit. “Yesterday, we saw signs that we might just be up for this task... Unfortunately, we don’t have much time.”

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon convened the one-day summit in an effort to secure commitments from each nation in the run-up to Copenhagen.

Wong emphasized the severity of the issue. “This risk all of us face knows no precedent,” said Wong. “For the majority of us, nothing in our lifetime will surpass this challenge.”

The minister stressed that in order to limit the global rise of temperature by two degrees Celsius - a limit set by the Group of Eight wealthiest nations in July - we need to begin to reverse the world output of global emissions in the next six years. “That’s not very far away,” warned Wong.

Wong underscored the importance that all nations—both developed and developing—commit to reductions in greenhouse gas emissions: “While no nation can solve this problem on its own, equally there can be no global solution without individual nations stepping to the plate.”

Senator Wong said that the key to reducing emissions in developing countries is to acknowledge their right to develop. “Therefore,” said Wong, “the question is, how do you delink growth and emissions growth?” Wong added: “What you want to encourage are those actions that are going to go right to the delinking issue.”

Pressure has been building for wealthier states to provide financial aid to developing nations for the development and implementation of clean energy technology. Securing aid, said Wong, is "a central element of bringing developed and developing countries together in an international agreement." Wong cautioned that "without a robust package on financing, we will not get the deal we need."

Wong applauded statements by US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao at the UN summit. The Australian minister said joint action by the United States and China is “critical,” and no agreement will be reached without the two world powers.

Reported by Jamal Afridi, Asia Society Online