Over 15,000 people, including government officials and representatives from the private sector, environmental organizations and research institutions, as well as 110 heads of State and government – including United States President Barack Obama and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao – are expected to take part in the two-week summit, making it the largest gathering on climate change ever.“The costs of responding to climate change will become progressively higher as time goes on,” Rajendra Pachauri, Chair of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), said at the conference’s opening. “Therefore, we must take action now.”Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will be travelling to Copenhagen next week to attend the high-level segment of the summit which begins on 17 December.“We must seize this moment and continue pushing for still higher ambition… and result,” he said, noting that Copenhagen must serve as the turning point in the world’s efforts to rein in climate change and usher in a new era of green growth for all.According to Yvo de Boer, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), there is unprecedented political momentum for a new deal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. “World leaders are calling for an agreement that offers serious emission limitation goals and that captures the provision of significant financial and technological support to developing countries,” he said. “At the same time, Copenhagen will only be a success if it delivers significant and immediate action that begins the day the conference ends.”There are three layers of action, the official has emphasized, that nations must agree on during the gathering: quick and effective implementation of immediate action on climate change; ambitious commitments to cut and limit emissions; and a long-term shared vision on a low-emissions future for all.The IPCC has found that to stave off the worst effects of climate change, industrialized countries must slash emissions by 25 to 40 per cent from 1990 levels by 2020, and that global emissions must be halved by 2050.Mr. Ban and French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, following a meeting in New York today that also touched on the situations in Afghanistan and Sudan, issued a joint statement highlighting the necessity of strong action in Copenhagen.“The more ambitious, the stronger the agreement we have in Copenhagen,” the easier the process towards setting up a legally-binding treaty in 2010, the Secretary-General said.He expressed his strong appreciation for the commitment made by France in furthering the talks towards a new climate agreement, as well as for the European nation’s efforts to generate innovative financing to combat global warming.In a related development, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) announced in Copenhagen today that some of the world’s top football teams have committed to helping save the planet.Over half of the countries which have qualified for next year’s FIFA World Cup – including Argentina, Brazil, England, Japan, the United States and Uruguay – have pledged to offset their teams’ and officials’ flights to South Africa for the competition.“Today, footballing nations representing millions, if not billions, of fans are standing up and being counted as environmental ambassadors for one of the greatest spectator events on the calendar,” said UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner, voicing hope that other nations will “come on-side for the climate in order to score their own green goals in 2010.”It was also announced today that Richard Branson and Wangari Maathai are among the 1,000 people expected to gather in Seoul, Republic of Korea, from 21 to 23 April 2010 for the first major gathering to discuss environmental action after Copenhagen.The 4th annual Business for Environment Global Summit – co-hosted by UNEP, the UN Global Compact, the World Wild Life Fund (WWF) and the Korean Ministry of Environment – will discuss areas such as resource efficiency, renewable energies, new green business models and climate strategies with the aim of setting a path to a low carbon future.“What makes this summit truly valuable is that leaders from both public and private sectors gather and provide their unique perspectives on this critical subject,” said Georg Kell, Executive Director of the Global Compact, the world’s largest corporate sustainability and responsibility initiative, which currently involves over 5,000 companies across 130 countries. 7 December 2009The highly-anticipated United Nations climate change conference kicked off in Copenhagen, Denmark, today with countries issuing urgent calls for action to curb global warming.