Reuters -- Saying billions of the world's poorest people were at risk from global warming, Kenya urged a 189-nation conference on Monday to do more to fight climate change and help Africa.
Kenyan drummers and dancers started the annual Nov. 6-17 U.N. talks, the first in sub-Saharan Africa, to chart ways to widen the U.N.'s Kyoto Protocol beyond a first period lasting until 2012 amid rising global emissions of greenhouse gases.
"Climate change is rapidly emerging as one of the most serious threats that humanity may ever face," Kenyan Environment Minister Kivutha Kibwana told delegates.
"Climate change threatens development goals for billions of the world's poorest people," he said. He said he knew of five-year-old children in his home village in eastern Kenya who had never seen a maize crop - Kenya's staple food - because of years of drought.
"We face a genuine danger that recent gains in poverty reduction will be thrown into reverse in the coming decades, particularly for the poorest people of the world and especially those in the continent of Africa," he said.
Kibwana urged delegates to "take concrete actions on immediate priorities". And he said the conference should work out ways to help the developing world. Africa is the poorest continent.
A U.N. report on Sunday said Africa was even more vulnerable than feared to climate change, widely blamed on a build-up of gases from burning fossil fuels in power plants, factories and cars.
Seventy million people, for instance, could face risks of coastal flooding by 2080 linked to rising seas, up from one million in 1990, it said. More than a quarter of habitats for African wildlife risked destruction.
The talks will seek ways to overcome disputes over Kyoto - a plan by 35 industrial nations to cap emissions of greenhouse gases until 2012.
The United States, which pulled out of Kyoto in 2001, has shown no sign of dropping its view that Kyoto would threaten jobs and wrongly left out developing nations from a first set of targets.
The European Union, a main backer of Kyoto, wants the United States and developing nations such as China and India to sign up for more action beyond 2012.