PARIS — The December climate change conference in Paris is the last chance for a meaningful agreement that would offer hope for a planet at risk due to greenhouse gases, U.N. climate chief Christiana Figueres said Wednesday.
Figueres is deep into preparations to broker a landmark, legally binding climate deal with more than 190 nations to keep global warming from reaching dangerous levels.
"Science is telling us that time is running out," Figueres said in an interview with The Associated Press. "We do not play with this anymore. We are at five minutes to 12 and Paris is the 12 o'clock strike of the clock."
So far, less than 50 of 194 nations have weighed in with commitments to slash carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases to reduce global warming. Conference host French President Francois Hollande said Tuesday that, with the current commitments, "we are still above" the overall goal of keeping the average global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees F) compared with pre-industrial times.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said recently that negotiations — separate from the nations' commitments — are moving at a "snail's pace" but Figueres said "we continue to be optimistic about Paris."
The Paris agreement is to sign off on a structure that will serve as a guide for decreases in emissions and increases in resilience in the coming decades, along with what Figueres called an "instruction manual" on how to implement the accord.
Its complex parts should "untangle" shortly, she said. "So, I think we are on track."
Without an agreement, "we are going to be playing with fire," she added.
"Whatever gets done over the next 10 to 15 years, whatever gets invested particularly in the energy system ... is going to determine the energy matrix that we will have for at least 50 years. It is going to determine the quality of life of this century and beyond," Figueres said.
Asked about those who doubt the scientific evidence of global warming, particularly in the United States — the nation which, after China, is the biggest polluter — Figueres had a simple response: consider the economic benefits of renewable energy, including growth, jobs and exports.
"With or without the science of climate change ... there is by now an unstoppable, irreversible technology and energy system trend, said Figueres.
To limit the Earth's temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius requires a massive energy shift to renewable sources, and perhaps even capturing airborne carbon dioxide and storing it underground.
"Why would the United States industry want to leave the opportunity of growth? ... And the opportunity to export the technology? Because all countries are turning to renewable energy," she asked. "Why would the United States want to leave that to China?"
China, she said, "understands that this is what is coming down the pike, this is where job creation is."