Extreme weather "not a fluke", UN climate chief tells paper

by Megan Rowling | @meganrowling | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Thursday, 6 March 2014 14:26 GMT

A teddy bear floats in the flooded main street of the Somerset village of Moorland, Feb. 13, 2014. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton

Image Caption and Rights Information
Christiana Figueres tells the UK's Guardian that extreme weather events have a "silver lining" by acting as a reminder that addressing climate change urgently should not be a partisan issue

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - From the floods that have soaked Britain, to Australia's hottest year on record and Typhoon Haiyan which battered the Philippines, examples of recent extreme weather around the world are a sign that climate change has arrived and cannot be dismissed as a "fluke", the head of the U.N. climate change secretariat said.

"If you take them individually you can say maybe it's a fluke. The problem is it's not a fluke and you can't take them individually. What it's doing is giving us a pattern of abnormality that's becoming the norm," Christiana Figueres said in an interview with Britain's Guardian newspaper, published on Wednesday.

"These very strange extreme weather events are going to continue in their frequency and their severity...It's not that climate change is going to be here in the future. We are experiencing climate change," she added.

She said the wild weather events of the past two years were "unfortunate", "but there is a silver lining if you wish, that they remind us solving climate change, addressing climate change in a timely way, is not a partisan issue".

Extreme weather events have raised climate change to the highest political level but they have "much, much longer effects than a political cycle" the U.N. climate chief said. "Frankly, they're intergenerational, so morally we cannot afford to look at climate change from a partisan perspective."

Work will begin among climate negotiators in Bonn next week to hammer out the first draft of a new global climate change deal to limit temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius, due to be agreed in Paris at the end of 2015. Figueres described 2014 as a "crucial year" for the new accord, saying there will not be much time to work on it next year. 

Asked whether a bad deal would be better than no deal in 2015, Figueres responded: "Paris has to reach a meaningful agreement because, frankly, we are running out of time."


The executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) also said communication is "our major challenge" in bringing about action to tackle climate change, according to the UK's Independent newspaper.

Efforts are being undermined by “weirdo words” used by scientists and U.N. staff, she was reported as saying.

“It is extremely difficult for scientists to speak in a way that policymakers can understand them. Just like it is extremely difficult for delegates of the UNFCCC to speak in a language that anybody on the street understands," she said.

She emphasised the need "to put a human face on climate". "This is not some esoteric concept out there with scientists that has nothing to do with human beings. In as much as we can, we must show what the impact is on citizens, on communities, on cities. That is what actually helps to bridge the communications gap, even more than words will,” she said.

On the positive side, U.N. agencies and researchers have grasped the urgency of communicating better, she added.

“Everybody has reached the conclusion that we are just not communicating properly. I see more and more scientists making a huge effort to translate – to not use weird weirdo words, to use simple words and above all to humanise,” she was quoted as saying.

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.