christiana figueres

Businesses will act on climate despite Trump, says ex-UN climate chief

Christiana Figueres was also scathing of those who say it is inevitable that the global warming limit set out in the Paris agreement will be broken

— Businesses are moving forward faster than ever on climate change despite the intransigence of US president Donald Trump, the former climate chief of the UN has said.

“There is a big difference between the economics of climate change and the politics of climate change,” said Christiana Figueres, the former executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention of Climate Change, who oversaw the landmark Paris agreement on climate change.

“Investors are seeing a tipping point in terms of climate change” and more investors are now taking the risks into account when allocating funds, she said. The growing interest of investors in low-carbon activity will, she said, determine the global response to climate change much more than the actions of Trump.

Speaking on the anniversary of Trump’s public decision to withdraw from the Paris agreement, and ahead of a G7 meeting where climate change will be high on the agenda, Figueres said not only businesses but also other governments were moving ahead of the US on the issue.

“The US is in a frankly un-understandable position,” she told the Guardian. “How is [withdrawing from Paris] going to strengthen the US economy? How is it going to open up new opportunities for the US when the rest of the world is becoming increasingly decarbonized?”

She pointed to the large number of US businesses and cities that had reaffirmed their commitment to cutting greenhouse gas emissions and investing in low-carbon technology. “They are saying they will continue to decarbonize,” she said. “It’s very difficult when the White House is speaking in one direction and the real economy is continuing moving in a different direction.

“Is the White House going to stop this advance [by businesses]? I don’t think so.”

Figueres had praise for the UK, which she said was leading the world in areas such as offshore wind. “In the country that saw the birth of the industrial revolution, we are seeing a new industrial revolution,” she said. Brexit was not a reason to change the UK’s determination to move to a low-carbon footing, she said, as Britain could benefit from green economic growth.

Figueres was also scathing about those who claim the world cannot now avoid warming of more than 2°C above pre-industrial levels, the limit set out in the Paris agreement based on scientific advice that warming above this level would cause catastrophic and irreversible changes. “To say we can’t avoid [such a future] and give up, that is irresponsible. That is completely unacceptable to me.”

She expects a key report due from the International Panel on Climate Change later this year to underline the need for urgency in cutting emissions, but said it was still possible to stave off the worst effects of warming and that the world should focus on such efforts. “I was told in 2009 it was already too late. Had we had a global framework 10 years ago, it would have been better. 20 years ago would have been better yet. 25 years ago would have been better, better, better yet. But the point is that we are dealing with the reality that we have.”


by Fiona Harvey | The Guardian