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OSLO (Reuters) - The United States should do more to fight climate change and help industry catch up on missed economic opportunities in clean energies, the head of the U.N. Climate Change Secretariat said on Tuesday.
Christiana Figueres, speaking during a visit to the United States, welcomed President Barack Obama's plans to promote wind and solar power or to set tougher emissions standards for power plants in the coming years.
"There is a very broad array of issues that the United States can and should be looking at," she told reporters on a telephone conference. Figueres, who is from Costa Rica, also stressed that no single nation was doing enough to offset global warming.
"It is absolutely true that the U.S. has not participated ... in a way that is commensurate with both its economic capacity and the opportunities that are here for American industry," she said.
She also said she hoped that the White House would appoint a senior person to orchestrate the administration's new efforts.
In his first term, Obama said he aimed to cut U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 but failed to get legislation passed in the Senate.
The United States never ratified the U.N.'s 1997 Kyoto Protocol, a pact for curbing greenhouse gas emissions by developed nations that has been further undermined this year by the withdrawal of Russia, Japan and Canada.
"It is a huge opportunity that the United States is leaving by the wayside by not really mobilizing the full capacity of R+D (research and development), or new technology industries, to move into the low-carbon economy in a timely fashion," she said.
Still, she noted that 49 percent of the new electricity generating capacity added last year in the United States was renewable, mainly wind and solar power.
Figueres, who is to speak before a U.N. meeting of climate negotiators from about 150 nations in Germany next week, also said that a slump in the European Union carbon market was not a death blow.
On April 16, the European Parliament rejected a plan to prop up the market, sending prices to a record low and raising questions about its survival.
"Yes, there is a slump in the current market that we have. Is it a death blow? No," she said, noting there were other markets for trading carbon in nations from Australia to Brazil.
Still, she said the EU Parliament's decision was "very unfortunate". The parliament rejected a plan by the EU Commission to remove temporarily some of the oversupply that has overwhelmed the market for permits to emit carbon dioxide.
Prices fell to a record low of 2.46 euros a tonne. They have since recovered to 3.11 euros on Tuesday.
She predicted that signs of climate change, such as Superstorm Sandy or drought in the United States last year, would put pressure on the world's governments to act.
They have agreed to work out a U.N. plan by 2015 to combat climate change. The new pact will enter into force in 2020.
The rate of warming has slowed this century after sharp gains in the 1980s and 1990s and scientists are struggling to explain why. One possibility is that more heat is going into the oceans than into warming the atmosphere.
Reporting by Alister Doyle; Editing by Jon Hemming