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UN leader hopes US will act soon on global warming

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GEORGE TIBBITS | October 26, 2009 09:54 PM EST | AP

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SEATTLE — Just six weeks before a key meeting on climate change, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Monday he's hopeful the U.S. Senate will pass a significant bill to limit carbon emissions.

With deep divisions in Congress on how to deal with climate change, a bill is not likely before the end of the year. However, Ban told a news conference he still thinks the U.S. can come up with an ambitious measure that will encourage other nations to act on carbon emissions.

"I'm very encouraged by the strong commitment by the Obama administration," he said.

Ban is on a two-day trip to Seattle to promote action on climate change and U.N. initiatives on poverty, hunger and health, along with improving the perception the American public has of the U.N. He met earlier Monday with Bill and Melinda Gates, and later in the day received an honorary degree from the University of Washington.

Ban has been pressing nations to commit to firm emission limits when they meet in December in Denmark to work out a new treaty to slow global warming, replacing the 1997 Kyoto Protocol on carbon dioxide emissions. The meeting has been billed as a last chance to avoid the impact of catastrophic global warming.

This week, the Senate environment committee will take up its version of a global warming bill. The legislation would cut greenhouse gases by about 80 percent by 2050 and require more domestic energy to come from renewable sources.

But with work still to be done on health care and deep divisions in Congress over how to deal with climate change, chances the Senate will pass a climate bill by the end of the year are slim. That means U.S. negotiators are likely to not have firm targets set before the Copenhagen meeting.

Ban said he plans to meet with Senate leaders to encourage the passage of the climate bill.

By doing so, the Senate "can have a huge political impact for other negotiators of other counties," Ban said. Many developing countries, such as China and India, "are ready to make some political compromises only if and only when the United States is ready to do that."

Ban said he's confident the Copenhagen meeting will produce a broad agreement, though many details remain to be worked out. That requires all countries "particularly the developed countries and including the United States" to come up with ambitious targets to cut greenhouse gases, and to provide the financial support that many developing countries will need to reduce emissions.

The Gates Foundation and the U.N. have collaborated on a number of development, global health and food programs. Ban said he met with Gates and his wife to discuss ways to reduce maternal death rates around the world and was encouraged by their level of commitment.

"It is a scandal that over half a million women die each year in the process of giving life," he said.