April 17th, 2013


Former Executive Secretary, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change

While UN negotiations continue to push industrialized and emerging countries toward agreement in reducing global greenhouse gases, many clean energy advocates say a global deal once dreamed of at Copenhagen will never happen. Others see incremental progress and say that UN talks have a meaningful (and moral) role to play in averting catastrophic climate disruption. Are we any closer today than we were four years ago in coming to international agreement? If so, what has changed?
Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, spoke of the lessons learned four years ago in Copenhagen. For one thing, we cannot expect heads of state sitting around a table to actually draft an agreement. “What is different now is that governments have agreed that yes, they will come to an agreement in the year 2015. They have put that in writing and have reaffirmed that most recently in Doha.” Figueres also spoke of the painful weather events that have hit many countries. “There is frankly not one single country that is currently unaffected,” she said. As a result, we are on a very different path today from the one we were on at Copenhagen. 
Figueres said that we cannot expect one “big bang” agreement to solve climate change by magic. “This is incremental, this is progressive,” she said. “We have to build on the successes that we have.” She added that whatever comes as a top-down measure cannot occur unless there is enough preparation on the ground. We need to work both bottom up and top down. “The other way of saying it,” she said, “is nothing can be agreed internationally, nothing can be legislated internationally, until there is enough domestic legislation, in particular in those countries that are critical. And we already have that. We have 30 countries with climate climate legislation, we have 100 countries with renewable energy regulation and we have many many different collaborate initiatives that are addressing climate change from the bottom up.” It is upon that basis that we must build, she believes.  
Regarding the responsibility of historic emitters, Figueres said that no one is questioning that. In fact, she believes that such responsibility will continue to be a critical principle in the conversation. She cautioned, however, that it cannot be the only organizing principle. “Because the fact is that most of the future emissions are going to come from my part of the world, from the developing countries.” The concern among developing countries is that they do not want their future curtailed in any way. “If they’re being expected to develop with a very different carbon footprint, then we need to change the economic and social structure that we have, and we need to figure out how to do this equitably. That is the big challenge.” Equity, she said, will have to be one of the organizing principles. What developing countries want is “equitable access to sustainable development.” And, she added, industrialized countries, by and large, agree. 
Figueres sees a positive future. We’re approaching a “technology tipping point” that will allow us to move into a completely different, a very exciting future. Where is that happening today? “You see it everywhere if those are the lenses you wear. If you want to see innovation, you see it everywhere. "