DAVOS, SWITZERLAND – Leaders gathered in the Swiss ski resort of Davos are pushing for nations to shift to cleaner energy sources as the best way to contain global warming and re-energize the global economy.
U.N. climate chief Christiana Figueres, reflecting the top billing that climate change has in Davos this year, said the world economy will be at risk unless a binding deal is agreed to in Paris in 2015 to lower heat-trapping carbon emissions from coal and oil.
“It is important that we get the treaty because the signal to the markets, the signal to the global economy, needs to be stronger than it is right now,” she said in an interview Wednesday.
Nations emerged from climate talks in Poland in November with a vague road map on how to prepare for a global climate pact to stabilize warming at 2 degrees, a level countries hope will avoid the worst consequences of climate change.
Figueres says she sees “momentum growing toward this” as countries like China reduce coal use to clear polluted skies and Indonesia plants more trees to protect water resources because it is in their national interest to develop more sustainably.
Scientists say man-made climate change is likely to worsen starvation, poverty, water scarcity, flooding, heat waves, droughts and disease, raising the specter of more conflict and war unless drastic action is taken to lower carbon dioxide emissions from the burning of coal, oil and gas from their current trajectories.
The global economy may continue to grow, scientists say, but if the global temperature gets about 2 degrees warmer than now, it could lead to worldwide economic losses between 0.2 and 2.0 percent of income.
A World Economic Forum report says the failure to mitigate and adapt to climate change is one of the top 10 risks facing the world in 2014. The Davos forum this year is also spotlighting inequality by income, gender and access to resources.
South Korea’s President Park Geun-hye said climate change is a problem that will take creativity: “Climate change and environmental challenges are global in nature. As such, the world must act as one in tackling them.”
Disputes between countries over who should bear the burden of cutting industrial emissions have long been a barrier to action, though many argue the benefits of cleaner energy outweigh the costs of conversion.
Indian Finance Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram said developing economies can’t be asked to shoulder most of the burden, and the enormous amount of financial support that rich nations promised in aid for adapting to a warmer world “is simply not forthcoming.”
Al Gore spoke at a private session on how leaders can help prevent the catastrophic effects on public health, anti-poverty efforts, clean water and energy supplies from a rise in global temperatures above 2 degrees. “The climate conversation has to be won by those who are willing to speak up,” he told them. “It is a race against time, but we are going to win.”