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Business 'should lead' on global warming, says U.N. climate secretary

By Catriona Davies, for CNN
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Securing our planet's future?
  • Panelists discuss who should pay to tackle climate change
  • U.N. climate change secretary says business should take the lead
  • Mexican president calls for all nations to contribute

(CNN) -- Private businesses are better placed than governments to tackle global warming because they can act faster, according to panelists at CNN's climate change debate.

High profile figures in the private sector and the United Nations agreed the urgency to reduce carbon emissions was such that business could not afford to wait for politicians to act.

Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, said at the CNN Earth's Frontiers debate in Cancun, Mexico, that business should be "pulling governments along."

She said: "The difficult thing is to balance two realities. One reality is the urgency of it, which science tells us and we can see and economics has already figured out, with the political pace with which governments can move.

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"That's where private sector comes in, that's where private sector, seeing the opportunity, should be not waiting for governments but taking the lead and pulling governments along."

Figueres was joined in the debate by Felipe Calderon, President of Mexico, and Caio Koch-Weser, vice chairman of Deutsche Bank, discussing who should pay to combat climate change.

Koch-Weser agreed: "The business community is doing this already. They see the risk, see the opportunity. I think we are ahead because business thinks longer term than politicians."

Calderon, who has pledged to make Mexico one of the first developing countries to take a lead in combating climate change, said everyone should contribute to avert disaster.

"We will need a lot of public money, we will need a lot of private money, we will need the market, we will need new rules, we will need taxes.

"But, in any case, it will be cheaper than to pay the consequences of climate change."

He added that all countries should pay according to their circumstances.

"You have more money, you pay more; your consumption of carbon is larger than mine, you must pay more; but the point is everyone is going to pay the consequences, everyone has to contribute."

During the debate, hosted by CNN anchor Becky Anderson, Koch-Weser praised the efforts of Mexico, China and other emerging economies in tackling carbon emissions.

Private sector should be ... taking the lead and pulling governments along.
--Christiana Figueres, U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change

He said: "I think countries like Mexico and China have understood that this is compatible with growth, job creation and eradicating poverty.

"There's a huge potential for competitive advantage and technological leap-frogging if you go for green growth, if you go for the big transformation that's coming our way.

"Some call it the next industrial revolution, where you go for much more natural-resource saving generally and low-carbon future growth path.

"I think Mexico, China and other emerging economies are more vigorous than some mature market economies."

The panelists discussed the establishment of a global carbon market to make the highest polluters pay for their emissions.

Koch-Weser, a member of the United Nations High-Level Advisory Committee on Climate Finance, said this could best be brought in by building on individual country pledges.

He said: "I'm skeptical, unfortunately, that we will have in the foreseeable future a global carbon market, but what we will have is domestic schemes spring up. We have the European experience, of course.

"China is thinking as part of its next five-year plan about establishing carbon markets and we could link domestic markets, create regional markets and eventually lead back to an international agreement."

He added: "We need a carbon price -- get the incentives right and humankind will be very innovative in responding."

Patrick Moore, the environmentalist, speaking to CNN separately, said a country's individual circumstances need to be taken into account instead of trying to impose a one-size-fits-all solution.

He said: "If we really want to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, if we really want to change technology, we really need to do it country by country, or perhaps bilateral agreements among countries that have similar circumstances.

"One of the main reasons that Kyoto has failed is that every country is different, some countries are rich, some countries are poor."

He added: "How can you expect countries as disparate as this to have some kind of common cookie-cutter agreement on what everyone is supposed to do? It's impossible."