The United Nation’s climate chief says that reordering the global economy to fight climate change is the “most difficult” task the international body has ever undertaken.
“This is probably the most difficult task we have ever given ourselves, which is to intentionally transform the economic development model, for the first time in human history,” Christiana Figueres, who heads up the U.N.’s Framework Convention on Climate Change, told reporters.
“This is the first time in the history of mankind that we are setting ourselves the task of intentionally, within a defined period of time, to change the economic development model that has been reigning for the, at least, 150 years, since the industrial revolution,” Figueres said.
Figueres’s remarks come ahead of a meeting in Geneva next week where delegates will pour over draft treaty texts that the U.N. hopes countries will agree to in December. She doesn’t expect global warming to be solved by one treaty, but was optimistic in will be solved in the coming years.
“That will not happen overnight and it will not happen at a single conference on climate change, be it COP 15, 21, 40 – you choose the number,” she said. “It just does not occur like that. It is a process, because of the depth of the transformation.”
The climate chief even held up President Obama as a shining example of steps countries can take to tackle global warming.
“The international community is quite grateful for the fact that in his second term, President Obama has turned his attention quite clearly and quite decisively to climate change,” Figueres told reporters.
“He has not only spoken about his commitment both to his national agenda on climate change, but also to the international process, and has been quite clear in his political leadership,” Figueres said, touting the Environmental Protection Agency’s success cutting carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.
The EPA will finalize rules to cut carbon emissions from new and existing power plants this summer. Critics of these rules say they will hurt the economy through job losses and higher energy prices. Supporters, however, say it will spur green energy development and set an example for other countries to follow.
Obama’s 2016 budget proposal boosts EPA funding to help it finalize emissions rules for power plants. The budget would also give the EPA $4 billion to reward states that reduce emissions even more than federal mandates require.
Figueres also cheered Obama’s agreement with China to reduce carbon emissions by 2030 and to give the U.N.’s climate fund a $3 billion boost.
“So for all of these reasons, certainly a very welcome leadership from the United States as a single nation,” Figueres said. “Countries can attain a certain level of emission reductions on their own, but they can do much more if they collaborate with each other, in particular with certain specific sectors.”
But while Figueres seems rosy about a deal, there are already signs of countries backing away from a tough international climate treaty.
France’s foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, told an audience at an event in New Delhi, India that a climate treaty should not hurt national economic growth.
“An agreement that would leave some countries to consider their growth hampered by its provisions will not be accepted,” Fabius said.