UN climate chief turns to CEOs
Stockholm - As governments bicker over who should do what to slow the pace of global warming, the UN's climate chief is increasingly looking to business leaders to show the way forward to a low-carbon future.
Christiana Figueres said 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 UN climate agency has met corporate leaders at the World Economic Forum in Davos and on a cruise to Antarctica organised by Nobel Peace Prize laureate and former US Vice President Al Gore's Climate Reality Project.
"I'm hoping to accelerate what I call the push and pull process," Figueres said in a phone interview from her agency's secretariat in Bonn, Germany.
Governments act as 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-powered 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 said.
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 UN climate agency in January 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 realisation that the two-decade-old UN climate talks are unlikely to achieve the goal of keeping temperatures from rising more than 2°C above preindustrial levels. Scientists predict further warming could lead to severe damage from extreme weather, droughts, floods and rising seas.
In 2011, 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 US to sign up to legally binding emissions cuts.
The US 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 US 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 US stance is going to soften. Republican candidates have expressed doubt over, or flat-out rejected, the notion that human activities contribute to warming.
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 US 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."