New Climate Chief: 'No Option' But to Take Action
Christiana Figueres said that "governments will meet this challenge, for the simple reason that humanity must meet this challenge."
"We just don't have another option," said Figueres, who replaces Yvo de Boer next month as head of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change.
She said the emphasis on reaching a legally binding deal committing countries to specific emissions reductions targets, however, was misplaced.
Even if a treaty is agreed, it could never be final as science advances and sets new goals, she said.
"It is too simplistic to focus on: Do we have a legally binding treaty and if so by when," Figueres said. "I don't believe that we will ever have a final agreement on climate, certainly not in my lifetime."
Figueres was optimistic despite a lack of progress so far during a two-week climate conference in Bonn - the first full-fledged climate negotiations since the disappointing December summit in Copenhagen.
That lack of progress prompted her predecessor on Monday to say he had given up on the idea of countries setting short-term goals to cut emissions sufficiently by 2020. De Boer said, however, that he did foresee adequate long-term targets because industrialized countries favor cutting emissions by 80 percent by 2050, and developing countries have also pledged to contribute.
But Figueres said industrial countries could still meet the tough cuts needed by 2020, though so far commitments put emissions at just 13-14 percent below 1990 levels instead of the 25-40 percent reduction called for by scientists.
The difference could be bridged by technology, she said, adding that she thought governments were now working on improvements.
"I am also confident that we'll see technology breakthroughs to also fill this gap," she said.
The Bonn talks, ending Friday, are meant to pave the way for the next high-level U.N. climate summit in Cancun, Mexico, at the end of the year.
Delegates are primarily discussing a rough draft of a treaty that still leaves all of the major issues open - particularly questions about which countries should have to cut emissions and by what amount, and how to generate funds to help poor nations fight climate change.
There has been little progress, participants said, and there is still a wide divide between rich and poor nations on how much each side should have to commit. It is also unclear how Figueres might take the talks forward after assuming leadership of the U.N. climate secretariat on July 8.
"We are still looking for breakthroughs" before the Bonn talks end this week, said May Boeve, of the climate group 350.org.
Alden Meyer, of the U.S.-based group Union of Concerned Scientists, said expectations of Figueres were high.
"She has the personality and she has skills" to facilitate progress, Meyer said, noting Figueres' 15 years as a Costa Rican climate negotiator
Figueres said no one should mistake her for naive in her optimistic outlook.
"I have been through the ups and downs of the process," she said. "I am fully aware that we are not there yet. This is a long-term process."
She insisted the Copenhagen summit had yielded some positive results, despite ending with a nonbinding political declaration that disappointed many. Specifically, she noted rich countries' commitments to provide billions in aid to poorer nations as well as voluntary pledges for emissions reductions.
The upcoming Cancun summit will be the "time for delivery" on these promises, she said. "I am convinced that Cancun is going to be very productive, that it is going to be successful."
But what that "success" might look like, she wouldn't say, suggesting that was something for the negotiating parties to decide.