UN chief: Climate change can ‘bring jobs and income’

Leading official urges radical new approach ahead of vital Paris summit

Environment Editor

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The United Nations’ top climate change official is calling on the political right to see global warming as “a huge business opportunity”.

Speaking to The Independent, Christiana Figueres said it was critical for political parties across the ideological spectrum to put aside their differences and unite in the battle to prevent catastrophic climate change.

Appealing to climate sceptics across the world, she stressed that tackling climate change properly now would not only help to avert the worst costs of global warming in the future – it also provides a significant economic opportunity now, for example in the production of solar and wind power equipment.

“Climate change is a huge business opportunity. How are we not seeing that?” said Ms Figueres, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, charged with brokering a global deal to curb climate change in Paris in December next year.

“Addressing climate change in a timely and effective fashion actually means a huge new side of industry will be created that is going to bring jobs and income. So it’s not necessarily a typical left-wing agenda, it actually has opportunities for everyone,” she added.

Ms Figueres was speaking against a UK political backdrop characterised by the frequent clashes between Liberal Democrat Energy Secretary Ed Davey, an advocate of green electricity, and a Conservative Party that largely views renewable power as a drag on the economy. Ms Figueres declined to comment on UK politics. However, she did say: “Climate change cannot be seen as a partisan issue. It is not as though those on one particular side of the spectrum of politics are immune to the impacts.

“This needs to be seen as a national, international, health and human concern. It is not about partisan politics,” Ms Figueres added.

In a wide-ranging interview, Ms Figueres also questioned whether governments should be dashing into shale gas – arguing that the practice continues to throw up concerns.

“Fracking remains a technology that has not been completely proven, in particular with respect to incumbent emissions leakages,” she said.

“In the face of the alternative – absolutely clean and safe renewable energy – then there are questions over whether it is absolutely indispensable to include other technologies that are not as clean and not as safe [such as fracking],” she added.

A spate of extreme weather events – including in the UK – and three alarming reports from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change  have helped to focus minds, Ms Figueres said.

But with the Paris 2015 climate change summit looming – at which governments must agree hugely ambitious legally-binding cuts to their carbon emissions – she added: “We have all the technology that we need, we have the finance that we need and we’re working on the policy that we need, both internationally and nationally. So why aren’t we there yet? My sense is that the missing component is the imperative of morality. We’ve been doing all this in our head and haven’t gotten down to the heart.”

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