WASHINGTON, Nov 3 (Reuters) - The United Nations climate change chief said on Tuesday she was "delighted" by the Volkswagen emissions cheating scandal because the company will now hasten manufacturing of electric and hybrid cars, speeding a global shift away from fossil fuels.
Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, noted that Europe's largest carmaker has said it will expand production of electric and hybrid cars and said that was a silver lining to its cheating on diesel emissions tests.
"If the people's vehicle says we are going to make it accessible to everybody to get a (zero-emissions) car, we have a little revolution on the way," Figueres said in Washington at a Christian Science Monitor event. "The people's vehicle" is the English translation of Volkswagen.
Figueres has been trying to help steer countries toward a new global climate accord. She was in Washington to meet with U.S. officials ahead of U.N. climate talks in Paris from Nov. 30 to Dec. 11.
Asked if she thought the VW diesel scandal has undermined the car industry, she said: "No, I am actually delighted about Volkswagen. ... what is their corporate strategy? We are going to scrap diesel and move to electric vehicles."
Figueres said high-end electric car company Tesla could not lead a mass market conversion now because its cheapest models start at around $70,000.
"Tesla is certainly opening up very, very new ground but Tesla, as we all know, is not exactly the peoples' vehicle," Figueres said.
Volkswagen officials said in October the company will cut investment plans at its biggest division and step up development of electric vehicles.
Figueres, who had met earlier with chief U.S. climate envoy Todd Stern, said in her remarks the United States was playing a stronger role in climate negotiations. She said President Barack Obama, in his second term, has "more liberty" to be "more specific about his vision of U.S. leadership."
Figueres said China has shown "undisputed leadership" in efforts to combat climate change over the last two to three years, helping the United States take a bolder position.
"That has politically opened up a lot of space for the United States but perhaps more importantly also challenged the United States," she said, adding that U.S. industry will not want to cede leadership in developing clean energy technologies.
"The United States is actually playing catch up to China," Figueres said. (Reporting By Valerie Volcovici; Editing by David Gregorio)