Christiana Figueres: if we fail on climate, we fail on human rights, education and health

If there is a queen of climate action, it is Christiana Figueres. Best known as one of the architects of the 2015 Paris Agreement, the 65-year-old Costa Rican diplomat is currently the co-founder and director of Global Optimism, an organization that promotes climate action by working with other organizations, including businesses that other activists would prefer to avoid.

Many activists were furious at the inclusion of fossil fuel companies in Cop26. Greta Thunberg called the Glasgow summit a “two-week celebration of the status quo”. But the sad truth is that despite significant growth in renewables, such as solar and wind power, fossil fuels still account for over 80% of global energy production. A successful transition to a clean energy economy would therefore appear to involve allowing fossil fuel companies to have a seat at the table. Figueres favors collaboration. She interviewed Shell CEO Ben van Beurden on the Outrage and Optimism podcast she co-hosts, and was on a panel with van Beurden in the run-up to Cop26 when Scottish climate activist Lauren MacDonald stormed the stage to challenge him. on the climate crisis.

Figueres understands anger. “The fossil fuel industries, especially coal but also increasingly oil and gas, are losing their social license very quickly because society has huge transformational expectations for them, and young people do not want to sell them. their brains, ”Figueres told me from a hotel. room in Spain. “But they [are] also lose his financial license. Increasingly, financial institutions and insurance companies are unwilling to lend, invest, or offer insurance to these businesses because they view them as toxic or stranded assets that lose value.

“In the midst of this loss of social and financial license, it is important to give a voice to the leaders of these companies and to hold them accountable to the public for what they are doing. These are some of the biggest companies in the world, they have deep pockets, they have deep engineering skills, they need to switch to a new economy, and we would all be better off if they switch quickly. “

[Hear also: What it will take to tackle climate change, with Christiana Figueres]

Figueres is clear that to engage does not mean to give in. “We have to keep putting pressure on them; social pressure from street youth and perpetuate the famine in the capital that they feel. We need to hear them because they could, in theory, if they wanted to, make a difference in whether we halve emissions by 2030 or not. Some [companies] tiptoe in that direction, but they must gallop in that direction. If fossil fuel companies fully play their role in the energy transition, as Figueres advocates, the huge trust gap between them, the public and many investors could be bridged.

Trust is very present in Figueres’ mind, in particular his absence at the Cop “between developed and developing countries, between governments and other stakeholders, and between the older generation at decision-making tables and the young generation in the streets ”. One of the priorities before and during Cop27 in November must be that the outgoing British Cop presidency and the future Egyptian presidency “work very consciously and intentionally to restore confidence through integrity, credibility and transparency”. Figueres warned: “Without confidence it will be very difficult to reach future agreements. “

The reason for the lack of trust between rich and poor nations at the Glasgow climate summit was largely due to the failure of developed countries to disburse funds pledged to help poorer nations adapt and mitigate climate change. That too must change in 2022, Figueres said. “It seems like a leitmotif at Cop that we fail to financially support developing countries.” The fact that a western industrialized country and a major African country are in charge of international climate action for the next two years “is quite fortuitous,” she added. “If they work together, they can help rebuild trust” and advance the issue of climate finance.

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As long as Figueres pushes for change, the world has a chance of keeping warming at 1.5C, as Scotland has promised. Her prowess has been recognized by governments and civil society organizations around the world, and she has received, among many other awards, the Prix de la France Legion of Honor. She was also named to lists of influential leaders, and Costa Rica issued a commemorative postage stamp in her honor. Perhaps most apt, however, is the name of a tropical butterfly, wasp, and orchid after Figueres in recognition of his work on climate and nature. The increased focus on bringing these two programs together is welcome and long overdue news for her.

“We have struggled for years to be able to bring all of these nature issues together. There is no such thing as “the climate is here in a bucket, close the lid, open another bucket and here is deforestation, forests and land use, close the lid, open another bucket and here is the problems of the ocean “. They are all part of the same ecosystem that we depend on.

Concerns that broader geopolitics could derail climate action are largely unfounded, Figueres said. “We tend to think that geopolitics has only been around for two weeks, but we’ve always had geopolitical challenges. Sometimes they are a wind [at] our back and sometimes a wind [at] our front. But they will always be there. She highlighted the decision of China and the United States at Cop26 to put aside tensions to work together on climate change as “hopefully” the direction of the trip. In Glasgow, US climate envoy John Kerry and Chinese climate negotiator Xie Zhenhua argued that global warming was “a much bigger problem, much more urgent, and with more serious consequences than anything they wished for. disagree”.

Figueres cautioned: “If we don’t tackle climate change in a timely manner, it doesn’t matter what we do in human rights, education or health, because the destruction of the planet will be so bad. serious, everything else will fall out afterwards. side of the road.”

An important reminder at a time when the world seems unable to focus on little outside of the Covid pandemic.

[See also: The flood of Covid headlines are drowning out red alert climate warnings]

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