"Some countries, especially the one where we are sitting, have the potential to decrease their carbon emissions. They have the highest per capita emissions, so they can do a lot," said Wael Hmaidan, a Lebanese activist and director of the Climate Action Network.
"If nations that are poorer than Qatar, like India and Mexico, can make pledges to reduce their carbon emissions, then countries in the region, especially Qatar, should easily be able to do it. ... They still haven't proven they are serious about climate change."
Al-Attiyah defended Qatar's environmental record at a later news conference, insisting it was working to reduce emissions from gas flaring and its oil fields. Qatar is already doing plenty to help poor countries with financing, he said, adding that it was unfair to focus on per capita emissions.
"We should not concentrate on per capita. We should concentrate on the amount and quantity that each country produces individually," al-Attiyah said. "The quantity is the biggest challenge, not per capita."
The concentration of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide has jumped 20 percent since 2000, according to a U.N. report released last week. The report also showed that there is a growing gap between what governments are doing to curb emissions and what needs to be done to protect the world from potentially dangerous levels of warming.
At the same time, many scientists say extreme weather events, such as Hurricane Sandy's onslaught on the U.S. East Coast, will become more frequent as the Earth warms, although it is impossible to attribute any individual event to climate change. The rash of violent weather in the U.S., including widespread droughts and a record number of wildfires this summer, has again put climate change on the radar.
"While none of these individual events are necessarily because of climate change, they are certainly consistent with what we anticipate will happen in a warming world," Pershing said. "The combination of these events is certainly changing minds of Americans and making clear to people at home the consequences of increased growth in emissions."
In Washington, Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., urged the U.S. delegation at the talks to "heed the warnings from Sandy and other extreme weather supercharged by climate change."
"If the United States does not aggressively pursue sharp reductions in carbon pollution following the droughts, storms and other extreme weather events we have endured, the rest of the world will doubt our sincerity to address climate change," Markey said. "It's time to attack the carbon problem head on, and adapt to a climate already changed for the worse."
Many countries referenced Hurricane Sandy as a rallying cry for tough action to cap emissions, including a group of small island nations that said the monster storm may have jolted the world to recognize "that we are all in this together."
"When the tragedies occur far away from the media spotlight, they are too often ignored or forgotten," the island nations said in a statement.
AP reporter Karl Ritter contributed to this report.
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