By Roger Harrabin
Environment analyst, BBC News, Monterrey
One of the world's most prominent business leaders has expressed his fears over the "daunting" challenge of preventing dangerous climate change.
China's rapid economic growth also has an environmental cost
Rick Samans, head of the Davos-based World Economic Forum, said the global effort to tackle the problem was beginning 10-15 years late.
He said politicians had to act fast and set targets to cut CO2 emissions.
Mr Samans made his comments at a conference of the world's top 20 polluting nations in Mexico.
"We are behind the curve, there is no doubt that we should have acted 10 or 15 years ago," he told BBC News.
He added that businesses needed much more certainty about emissions targets before committing to investing billions of pounds in clean technology.
"It is very difficult to make a decision about a very expensive piece of equipment that you expect to last up to 50 years if one does not have a sense of the cost of that equipment," Mr Samans said.
He suggested that the delegates were also frustrated by the slow pace of progress, but expressed a degree of optimism that clean technology could be quickly adopted if governments sent out the right signals.
"Having said that, it is not too late because human experience suggests we have underestimated the impact of technological change.
"If we organise ourselves better as an international community across the public and private sectors, there is hope," Mr Samans concluded.
Call for action
The conference in Monterrey, organised by the UK government, is the latest round of talks on the climate action plan decided upon at the G8 Gleneagles Summit last year.
Ministers from G8 nations have been joined at the event by representatives from the emerging economies of China, India, Brazil, and South Africa.
On Tuesday, the ministers were told that the world had to act now to curb climate change, because doing nothing would cost more in the long-term.
The warning came from former World Bank chief economist Sir Nicholas Stern, who added that pursuing alternative energy made economic and environmental sense.
Climate change could wipe out economic growth in some regions
Sir Nicholas, now a senior official in the UK Treasury, was presenting the initial findings from a review he was asked to produce by the UK prime minister and chancellor.
Another senior figure to address the conference was the secretary general of the World Energy Council, Gerald Doucet.
He said his key message was going to be that all energy options had to remain open.
"Tackling climate change is one element of sustainable growth. Access to energy and security of supply are just as important," he told the BBC.
"Idolising or demonising one technology is no longer what these meetings are about. Clean fossil fuels are a very key element to the solution," Mr Doucet said.
He said that this included improving the energy efficiency of existing coal-fired power stations and, ultimately, carbon capture and storage technology.
But he added that it was not an excuse for business as usual.
"I feel there is a real change going on. I came to this meeting late because I was at a meeting in New York where we were talking about the big risks facing energy businesses," he revealed.
"The companies at that meeting, and there were some major companies there, see the climate issue as the number one risk management issue for businesses in the coming years."
Bridging the divide
The Ministerial Dialogue on Climate Change, Clean Energy and Sustainable Development was created by the UK when it held the presidency of the G8 in 2005.
One of the dialogue's aims was to attempt to reach an informal agreement between industrialised and developing nations on a long-term strategy to cut emissions.
The world's biggest polluter, the US, has not ratified the UN's Kyoto Protocol - the international agreement on reducing nations' greenhouse gas emissions.
President Bush rejected it, saying it would harm the US economy and fail to deliver any meaningful reductions.
Emerging economies, led by China, argued that if the world's richest nation was not part of the Kyoto targets, it was unfair to expect developing nations to be subject to legally binding limits.
Organisers hoped the meeting in Mexico, which is not part of the UN climate negotiation process, would be able to make progress towards a consensus on a number of issues, including:
- economic challenges of tackling climate change
- alternative low-carbon technologies
- level of investment from public and private sectors
- "road map" for a low-carbon future