UN's climate chief Christiana Figueres (AP/Schalk van Zuydam)
As governments bicker over who should do what to slow the pace of
global warming, the U.N.'s climate chief is increasingly looking to business
leaders to show the way forward to a low-carbon future.
Christiana Figueres told The Associated Press that her efforts to
reach out to high-profile executives from companies such as Coca-Cola, Unilever
and Virgin Group represent "a deeper recognition of the fact that the
private sector can contribute in a decisive way."
Since the start of 2012, the Costa Rican head of the U.N. climate
agency has met corporate leaders at the World Economic Forum in Davos and on a
cruse to Antarctica organized by Nobel Peace Prize laureate and former U.S.
Vice President Al Gore's Climate Reality Project.
"I'm hoping to accelerate what I call the push and pull
process," Figueres told the AP in a phone interview Tuesday from her
agency's secretariat in Bonn, Germany.
Governments act a a pull factor by shaping the policies that promote
green technology and help renewable energy sources like solar and wind power
compete with the fossil fuels that scientists say contribute to global warming
through the release of greenhouse gases.
"But the companies, particularly these very, very high-power
companies that ... have the ear of many of the decision-makers and the opinion
leaders of different countries, they can act as a push factor," Figueres
She mentioned Walmart, Coca-Cola and Unilever as examples of companies
that have "looked at their own production and up and down their value
chain" for ways to reduce their carbon footprints.
Underscoring the focus on businesses, the U.N. climate agency last
month launched an online database showcasing examples of companies making
efforts to help vulnerable communities adapt to climate change.
The heightened attention to the role of corporations in addressing
climate change comes amid a realization that the 2-decade-old U.N. climate
talks are unlikely to achieve the goal of keeping temperatures from rising more
than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above preindustrial levels.
Scientists predict further warming could lead to severe damage from extreme weather,
droughts, floods and rising seas.
Last year, governments agreed to draw up a new climate pact by 2015
that would enter into force five years later. But major hurdles remain,
including the difficulty in getting the United States to sign up to legally
binding emissions cuts.
The U.S. doesn't want to commit to a binding deal unless it also
imposes strict emissions targets on China and India, while the latter insist
their targets should be more lenient because, historically, the West has a
bigger share of the blame for man-made warming.
Figueres said it is up to the U.S. electorate to decide in the presidential
election this year "how they would like to see their national leadership
treat this issue."
However, there are no signs from the presidential campaigns that the
U.S. stance is going to soften. Republican candidates have expressed doubt
over, or flat-out rejected, the notion that human activities contribute to
And Democratic President Barack Obama, facing Republican criticism for
locking up the nation's energy resources, has embraced increased oil and gas
production on the campaign trail.
"What is always astonishing to me is how the U.S. citizen is
willing to diminish the possibility that the United States has to be a leader
in the technologies of the future," Figueres said. "And it also has
implications for the world. Because this world would profit from the technical
and intellectual capacity that is in the United States."