Ex-UN climate chief sees climate action “explosion” in coming decade

Former UN climate chief Christiana says the Paris Agreement was just the start of global ambition to protect the planet, despite US President Donald Trump announcing earlier this year he would withdraw his country from the climate pact.

In the next five to 10 years, the world will see an “explosion” of positive action on climate change, not only in terms of efforts to reduce planet-warming emissions but also in people’s daily lives, former UN climate chief Christiana Figueres said on Thursday.

As the annual climate talks draw to an end in Germany, Figueres told an event hosted by Reuters in London that the world was poised for “a very exciting moment” on its journey towards a greener, cleaner way of living.

“We are embarked on a transformation that is now unstoppable, irreversible and more than anything else, it is exponential,” she said.

Scientists said on Monday, however, that world carbon emissions are set to rise 2 per cent this year to a new record, dashing hopes global emissions had already peaked.

Calling herself a “stubborn optimist”, Figueres said the Nov. 6-17 climate talks, hosted by Fiji but held in Bonn, had cemented four key trends that gave cause for international hope.

Those are the demise of coal, the “explosion” of renewable energy, the electrification of vehicles, and broader use of digital technology and artificial intelligence to rein in global warming.

We are embarked on a transformation that is now unstoppable, irreversible and more than anything else, it is exponential.

Christiana Figueres, former UN climate chief

“All of this together… means that we are no longer on linear progress on climate change - we have left that behind,” said Figueres, who is Costa Rican.

After finishing her term as executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in July, she became convener of “Mission 2020”, a global initiative that seeks to bend the curve on greenhouse gas emissions downwards by 2020.

“This is not optional,” Figueres said, adding it was not her own dream but an imperative shared task to meet the Paris Agreement goal of keeping the rise in average global temperatures to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial times, and ideally below 1.5 degrees.

“If we have not bent the curve (by 2020), we will have closed the door to 1.5 degrees, which is a tragedy,” she added.

Under the 2015 Paris deal, countries pledged to reduce their emissions to net zero in the second half of the century.

Figueres said action by national governments alone would not be sufficient to meet the 2-degree goal, adding that businesses, cities and investors must also join the push.

Despite US President Donald Trump announcing earlier this year he would withdraw his country from the climate pact, Figures said the Paris Agreement was just the start of global ambition, and had sparked a race of human ingenuity to protect the planet.

“Change is now irreversible,” she said.

This story was published with permission from Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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