The climate change talks in Copenhagen were a resounding failure, setting back the movement to control global warming. Even so, the U.N. official, Christiana Figueres, is optimistic, though she admits the world needs to step up its efforts to meet its goals.
A conference is set for Bonn next week, one of a series of meetings leading up to the next major climate convention in 2015.
Briefing reporters by teleconference from Washington Tuesday, Figueres complained that no country is doing enough now, and the "scale and speed" of efforts must be intensified to ensure the world can keep temperatures from rising more than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius), compared to pre-industrial times. Experts believe that meeting that target would help ensure that the worst effects of climate change can be averted.
"What is very different is that we all went to 2009 having made our own decision that governments had to come to an agreement. But there was actually no commitment of governments to come to an agreement," said Figueres, who was appointed in 2010 after serving as member of Costa Rica's negotiating team.
"It was everybody else except the governments," she said. "Now, we have commitment of countries, of governments. They have said we are going to come to agreement in 2015. They have reiterated and reemphasized that, and it is very much on track."
Noting the devastation of Hurricane Sandy and the droughts that hit the midsection of the United States last year, Figueres also said it was hard to ignore the damage caused by warming of the planet.
"Unfortunately, we have much more evidence of climate change than we did way back in 2009, and that is actually a frightening thing," she said. "It does prove negative effects of climate are accelerating, both in impact and frequency. Across the world, we have every single country being affected in some way."
Figueres also said negotiators learned from 2009 not to leave important components of the agreement to the last minute and to ensure there is "transparency (and) inclusiveness" in the talks.
Climate negotiations over the years have dogged by suspicion, with rich and poor nations accusing one another of failing to do enough to move the talks along.
"There has to be a very clear process with which we get to this agreement. We will not be going to France with 300 pages of text," she said. "The governments have decided they will engage in a very serious exercise which leads up to draft of agreement, or at least the elements of a draft agreement, by 2014."
As for the United States, Figueres said she would like to see a "high level person in the White House orchestrating" the various American efforts to combat global warming.
She said she understood the preference of the Obama administration was not to push climate change legislation through Congress, but to implement a range of executive orders to tackle climate change instead. The Obama administration has already taken such measures to set fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks and is working on regulations for new power plants. Figueres said she hoped the U.S. would look at regulations for existing power plants as well.
A study last year from Climate Analytics, Ecofys and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research said U.S. policies won't be enough to meet its stated goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent by 2020, compared to 2005 levels.
Figueres said the worldwide effort was more important than the record of a single country, even the U.S.
"Of course, the ideal scenario would be for every single of the 191 countries to come with legislation in 2015. Is that realistic? No, that is not realistic" she said. "What is important here is to very quickly for each country (to do the) maximum they can do. There is no country doing its maximum."
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