Time to 'get real and serious' on climate change: EU official

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The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change last month raised eyebrows with a stark warning about the looming effects of environmental degradation. Ahead of the release of the latest—and likely equally grim—, a top European Union official is sounding her own clarion call: Namely, it's "time to get real" about curbing carbon emissions.

Connie Hedegaard, the European commissioner for climate action, issued the warning in an interview this week with CNBC, in between meetings at the United Nations.

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Question from CNBC: Has the global push on global warming lost momentum?

Answer from Hedegaard: "It is sound economics to be serious about these things. In a way I see good action on the ground but globally we still see emissions increasing. In the U.S. there was a two percent increase in carbon emissions last year, and there are challenges in China. While we have good trends in renewables…we must incorporate climate change into all the choices we make. It costs a lot to invest in a non-carbon future, but (ignoring the problem) costs a lot in human suffering.

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"It's time to get real about these things. We need governments to get real and serious. This cannot be solved just by ministers; we're talking about a broader transformation in the way we create growth."

Q. A recent European summit on climate action ended in what some termed a disappointment. Why?

A. "That's not the way I see it. We agreed on targets for renewables, energy independence, and other targets the commission has proposed. We also moved to reduce emissions by 40 percent by 2030. That's not low ambition, that's high ambition."

Q. Has the global shale boom taken attention away from climate change?

A. "Shale gas is good as a [bridge] to replace oil and coal, but it should not make you think you should not reduce emissions. There is more energy economy that can save money on energy bills, and renewables are coming down significantly in price. I always say shale should not be used as a "sleeping pillow," so you don't need to reduce fossil fuel dependency.

Q. What can governments do to push a sustainable agenda?

A. We need politicians that can take chances and embrace change. When you set up political targets and the incentives are right to invest…you can stimulate growth. People must understand that business as usual is costly. You will experience more droughts, more severe precipitation and more extreme weather. That comes with huge costs. There are costs to business as usual, and we need to do things in a smarter way."