WASHINGTON—The international community is making “good progress” and moving in the “right direction” in terms of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, “but it is not enough,” said Christiana Figueres, United Nations top representative on climate change.
As executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Figueres knows the data. If all countries met their targets to date, it would only cover 80 percent of global emissions.
“There is still 20 percent of global emissions out there and waiting for some kind of structure,” she told the press at the Carbon Forum North America on Monday.
Feisty as she is, Figueres minds her diplomacy, praising the global community for the progress made in the last year.
All countries have not only agreed to prevent global temperatures from rising beyond 2 degrees centigrade, but they are also considering limiting it to 1.5 degrees: “the only target that would give us some chance to protect small island states from the worst effects of climate change,” Figueres said.
For the first time, all governments, including those from industrialized and developing nations, have agreed to negotiate a “legally-based, universal agreement” on emission reduction by 2015 with implementation starting in 2020.
Along with increasing the scope and coverage of emission reduction, the shift in position will see current voluntary pledges evolve to a legally-based agreement.
“So on both accounts, good progress,” she said, repeating loudly, “But not enough! We need further emissions reduction, and above all, the scientists say we need a higher speed.”
Founder of the non-profit Center for Sustainable Development in the Americas (CSDA) and integral to Latin America’s active participation in the UNFCCC, Figueres said that climate events in the United States this year, including record-high temperatures, drought, and wildfires, were already driving public opinion on climate change.
She pointed to a 2012 national survey by the University of Texas that indicated a 5 percent increase in those who believe that climate is changing, an increase from 65 percent of those surveyed in March this year to 70 percent in July.
She also cited international climate events, including rising global temperatures, shrinking Arctic ice, and floods in Asia.
In an interview with The Epoch Times, Figueres confessed that her greatest fear is that climate change will reach a tipping point, when the changes to climate are no longer incremental but undergo a “complete shift of the climate paradigm.”
“That is the scary part,” she added.
Right now, high carbon is the norm in everything from manufacturing to transportation.
“We all need to switch that into low carbon, and the moment we do, we are going to avoid that tipping point,” she said.
The United States
In the United States, emissions have already been reduced, and there is activity at the state and local levels and in the private sector. California, the second largest carbon market in the world for example, has introduced a cap and trade scheme, and carbon permits are due to go on sale in November.
In the private sector, over 200 of America’s top public firms have set internal emissions targets, including IBM, FedEx, Microsoft, UPS, Wal-Mart, Coca-Cola, Unilever, and Nestle.
“Most of them are pursuing aggressively energy efficiency because it helps them save money,” Figueres said, adding, “They are not doing this to save the planet.”
Figueres said that the United States is, however, lagging other countries in setting up market-based mechanisms for reducing emissions.
“The United States and international interests are better served by active participation in the design and construction of the future market mechanisms,” she said in her speech at the forum.
She compared the speed of innovation and development in information technology over the last two decades with the energy sector, saying, “the same revolution needs to occur.”
“It is going to happen,” she said. “The issue is it needs to happen sooner than the market would have us have.”
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