UNITED NATIONS (AP) -- The U.N. climate chief urged investors Wednesday to move out of high-carbon assets like oil and coal and into assets promoting renewable energy, greater energy efficiency and more sustainable ways of doing business.
Christiana Figueres told the 2014 Investor Summit on Climate Risk at U.N. headquarters that the switch to greener investments is essential to tackle climate change.
"The continued and dangerous rise in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is in large part the direct result of past investments in energy and mobility systems based on the use of fossil fuels," she said.
Figueres said new investments must help reverse "this unsustainable trend, and quickly, if the world is to have a chance of staying under a 2 degree Celsius (3.6 degree Fahrenheit) temperature rise."
International climate negotiators agreed at the 2009 U.N. climate change conference in Copenhagen that global warming this century shouldn't increase by more than 2 degrees Celsius to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.
According to the International Energy Agency, $36 trillion of global investment will be needed in clean energy by 2050 to meet this goal — which amounts to $1 trillion a year.
Last year, investment in renewable energy and energy smart technologies dropped 12 percent to $254 billion, after falling 9 percent in 2012 to $288.9 billion from the record $317.9 billion in 2011, according to figures released Wednesday by the research company Bloomberg New Energy Finance.
Michael Liebreich, the company's founder who chairs its advisory board, told the summit the reduced investment was a result of a sharp drop in the price of solar power technology and a drop in investments in clean energy by the U.S. and China, the two biggest investing countries. But he said there has been an investment surge in Japan, an increase in India, and broader investments in clean energy in Asia and Latin America.
Figueres told The Associated Press that in 2012, about $600 billion was invested in exploration and extraction of fossil fuels, double the investment in clean energy.
In addition, she said, governments are estimated to be subsidizing the consumption and production of fossil fuels worldwide by between $600 billion and $1 trillion annually.
Figueres said the lower level of investment in clean energy isn't surprising "because we have built the global economy for 150 years on the back of fossil fuels."
Figueres welcomed the presence of over 500 investors at the day-long conference, saying there is "a growing realization that they can play a very significant role in shifting capital," in changing government policy, and in increasing their profitability with green investments.
Figueres is heading to next week's World Economic Forum in Switzerland, where climate change will be a major topic on the agenda.