The head of the United Nations Development Programme said debates within the United States show a very different take on climate change than those espoused by its leaders.
Speaking on Sunday in Abu Dhabi, Achim Steiner said recent opinion polls showed a rising concern in the US about the devastation wrought across the globe by climate change.
His comments came following remarks by US president Donald Trump that questioned the reliability of renewable energy.
Mr Trump was speaking at the G20 summit in Japan at the weekend where he claimed renewable energy could not be always relied on.
“It doesn’t always work with solar because solar is just not strong enough, and a lot of them want to go to wind, which has caused a lot of problems,” said Mr Trump.
But on the sidelines of the Abu Dhabi Climate Meeting, the German head of the UNDP said a vibrant debate was taking place in America.
“Climate change affects Americans and its economy and the hard truth is if rest of world does not act then America will be on the receiving end,” said Mr Steiner, in response to a question about Mr Trump’s remarks.
“The rest of the world is moving forward. Debates within the US have already shown that among Americans there is a very different take.
“Maybe it [will be] the business and technology community in US that will be asking its government to advance its ambitions in terms of low carbon jobs as these are the jobs of tomorrow.”
Mr Steiner also said the Abu Dhabi Climate Meeting was an important stepping stone for the UN’s climate summit this September. The summit will seek to ramp up efforts to implement the 2015 Paris agreement by asking global leaders what specifically they can do. How to finance the switch to a green economy will be a particularly thorny issue.
The Paris deal seeks to keep any increase in global temperatures to below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to limit the increase to 1.5°C. Yet experts have warned that within a decade the world faces increases of more than 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels if countries fail to act.
“Think back to 2015 – people pledged to act but we are still facing how we transform our economies,” he said. “It is a daunting task. We are seeing growing commitment but some are arguing we have more time,” he said.
But time was not on the world’s side and he called for leadership this year to confront the problem.
“September is an appeal for leadership. When world’s scientists tell us there is a window of ten to 15 years within which to contain emissions – that is extremely serious. Once you cross that line, there is nothing you can do for 100 years.”
The Abu Dhabi Climate Meeting concludes on Monday.