Christiana Figueres called for investors to take risks that benefit the environment and global poverty at the Grantham Institute annual lecture.
Investing in clean technologies and renewable energy will jump start the global economy and pull millions out of poverty, according to Ms Figueres, who is Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
It is time for massive investment in low-carbon infrastructure that can get the global economy going again.
– Christiana Figueres
Speaking to a sold-out audience of students, academics, charity and business representatives, she said that anybody with money to invest would be wise to consider the range of innovative, low-carbon technologies in development around the world.
"It is time for massive investment in low-carbon infrastructure that can get the global economy going again," said Ms Figueres, and highlighted how infrastructure investment following the Second World War invigorated markets in Europe and around the world.
Following the global financial crisis in 2008, a combination of economic and social factors mean that investing money in unproven technologies is seen as less attractive to many investors.
However, there is a global need for finance to help developed nations modernise with clean energy, energy efficient buildings and resilient cities. Meanwhile, developing countries require transport and energy infrastructure to meet the needs of growing populations.
The falling cost of low-carbon technologies such as solar panels, are where the opportunities present themselves to savvy investors, Ms Figueres told the audience. And policies that aim to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change can therefore determine the direction of future economic growth.
"Either we delay climate action to protect investment in high-carbon assets whose time is almost up, or we encourage low-carbon investment," Ms Figueres said.
In a quip to the audience, she said: “If you're still putting your money into high carbon, I'm sorry, you're going to lose it."
Getting the measure of low-carbon innovation at Imperial
Ms Figueres’ lecture followed an afternoon visit to Imperial, which saw her participate in a roundtable session with questions about her views on climate policy put by Grantham Institute postgraduate students on the Science and Solutions for a Changing Planet Doctoral Training Programme.
She also heard pitches by the Imperial alumni behind low-carbon start-up companies GrowUp Urban Farms, Design by Sol and Featherfill, who demonstrated the commercial potential for such innovative ideas that are needed to solve the problems of climate change and low-carbon living.
Speaking at the lecture, the Provost of Imperial College London, Professor James Stirling reinforced the College's commitment to establishing a research centre at its White City Campus that will look into developing clean technologies.
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