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Climate change is 'absolutely' linked to wildfires, says UN chief

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Impassioned plea for action comes as violent brushfires rage across Australia

wildfire (wikimedia)
wildfire (wikimedia)

The head of a United Nations committee on climate change said this week that global warming is "absolutely" linked to a recent spate of wildfires and heat waves, while calling upon international leaders to address the matter with more urgency. Christiana Figueres, the executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), made the comments in a recent interview with CNN, as massive brushfires continue to rage across Australia.

"Yes there is, absolutely," Figueres said when asked whether there is a link between climate change and wildfires. "The World Meteorological Organization has not established a direct link between this wildfire and climate change – yet. But what is absolutely clear is the science is telling us that there are increasing heat waves in Asia, Europe, and Australia; that there these will continue; that they will continue in their intensity and in their frequency."

"We are paying the price with wildfires, we are paying the price with droughts."

Figueres also criticized newly elected Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who once described global warming as "total crap" and is looking to repeal the country's carbon tax, after having disbanded its climate change committee in September. Speaking to CNN's Christiane Amanpour, Figueres said Australia is already paying a price for carbon emissions, taxes notwithstanding.

"We are really already paying the price of carbon," Figueres said. "We are paying the price with wildfires, we are paying the price with droughts."

Figueres delivered a more impassioned plea for action during an interview with BBC News Tuesday, telling the agency that diplomatic negotiations over a global climate change treaty are not advancing fast enough. The UNFCCC is charged with creating a treaty by 2015 and implementing it by 2020, as determined during a 2011 conference in Durban, South Africa.

"I am always frustrated by the pace of the negotiations, I was born impatient," she said. "We are moving way, way too slowly, but we are moving in the right direction and that's what gives me courage and hope."

"completely unfair and immoral."

Figueres, who has served as the head of the UN's committee since 2010, later became tearful when describing the severe impacts that global inaction may have on future generations.

"I'm committed to climate change because of future generations, it is not about us, right? We're out of here," Figueres told BBC News. "I just feel that it is so completely unfair and immoral what we are doing to future generations, we are condemning them before they are even born."

"We have a choice about it, that's the point, we have a choice," she continued. "If it were inevitable then so be it, but we have a choice to change the future we are going to give our children."