Former US President, Bill Clinton, has told the Financial Times the US needs to unleash “the greatest concentration of economic activity since we mobilised for World War II” by embracing new energy technology and regulatory incentives to tackle climate change.

His comments come as leaders of 80 countries are expected to attend a special UN meeting in New York to discuss the effects of climate change and the ways to combat it. US President George Bush will not be present, hosting instead a meeting of 16 “major emitter” countries in Washington on Thursday and Friday.

However, the attendance of 150 countries and 80 heads of state makes today’s meeting the most high-level UN gathering on climate change.

The stakes could not be higher: It is just days after scientists reported that more Arctic ice melted this year than ever before. The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) said the minimum extent of 4.13 million sq km (1.59 million sq miles) was reached on 16 September. The figure shatters all previous satellite surveys, including the previous record low of 5.32 million sq km measured in 2005.

Mark Serreze, a senior research scientist at the NSIDC, said: “2005 was the previous record and what happened then had really astounded us; we had never seen anything like that, having so little sea ice at the end of summer. Then along comes 2007 and it has completely shattered that old record.”