Nations emerged from climate talks in Poland in November with a vague road map on how to prepare for a global climate pact to stabilize warming at 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit), a level countries hope will avoid the worst consequences of climate change.
Figueres says she sees "momentum growing toward this" as countries like China reduce coal use to clear polluted skies and Indonesia plants more trees to protect water resources, seeing that it's in their national interest to develop more sustainably.
Scientists say man-made climate change is likely to worsen starvation, poverty, lack of water, flooding, heat waves, droughts and diseases, raising the specter of more conflict and war, unless drastic action is taken to lower emissions of carbon dioxide from the burning of coal, oil and gas from their current trajectories.
The global economy may continue to grow, scientists say, but if the global temperature reaches about 3 degrees F warmer than now, it could lead to worldwide economic losses between 0.2 and 2.0 percent of income.
South Korea's President Park Geun-hye told the forum it is a problem that will take creativity to overcome.
"Climate change and environmental challenges are global in nature. As such the world must act as one in tackling them," she said.
Indian Finance Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram said he couldn't say whether his country would sign on to a treaty at this point. Developing economies can't be asked to shoulder most of the burden, he told reporters in Davos, and the enormous amount of financial support that rich industrialized nations promised in aid for adapting to a warmer world "is simply not forthcoming."
Al Gore was the headliner at a private session on how leaders can help prevent — and better communicate — catastrophic effects on public health, anti-poverty efforts, clean water and energy supplies from a rise in global temperatures above 4 degrees F.
"The climate conversation has to be won by those who are willing to speak up," he told them. "It is a race against time, but we are going to win."