The offices of the UN’s climate change body in Bonn have glorious views over a pretty stretch of the Rhine river, looking out on grasslands and splendid old and new buildings. Just a short distance away is the historic campus most famous for being where the Marshall plan was signed after the second world war.
That plan, which channelled billions in American aid to rebuild European economies, was instrumental in creating modern Europe, and redrawing the global economy. Instead of the punitive measures and reparations inflicted on Germany in the Versailles treaty, the Marshall plan offered healing and financial support – a message of hope, not fear.
Christiana Figueres, the UN’s climate change chief, has a task just as great as the architects of that plan. She is in charge of the world’s response to global warming, a threat potentially more catastrophic than any disaster yet seen, but one which is so slow-burning that governments and the public have been able largely to ignore it for more than three decades since scientists began to prove incontrovertibly the dangers that greenhouse gas emissions pose to our planet’s stability.
On Monday, governments will meet in Paris at a make-or-break conference in an attempt to forge a new global treaty, hopefully as effective and far-reaching as the Marshall plan, that would limit future carbon emissions and bring financial assistance to the poor who will be worst-hit by the effects of warming.