2020 Could Be ‘Humanity’s Finest Hour’: Why a Former Climate Leader Is Hopeful Despite Everything
A Q&A with Christiana Figueres, climate champion and architect of the Paris accord
Christiana Figueres became perhaps the world’s most influential shaper of global climate policy when she was appointed executive secretary of the United Nations Convention on Climate Change in 2010. The timing couldn’t have been worse — that was just six months after the colossal failure of the world’s governments to reach an agreement on a treaty in Copenhagen. “The global mood on climate was really in the trash can,” she told OneZero.
Not long after, when Figueres was asked if it would ever be possible to reach a global agreement, she retorted, “Not in my lifetime.” But as the words came out of her mouth, Figueres realized that if she didn’t change her approach, her attitude would become a self-fulfilling prophecy, and “we would never be able to get to any global framework.” She quickly shifted her tactics and worked to help change the attitudes of governments, investors, and other stakeholders. “Everyone who could actually contribute to the solution,” she told OneZero.
Figueres led a series of six annual global negotiations that eventually resulted in the landmark Paris Agreement in 2016 — a nonbinding global framework signed by 195 countries to work together to stop global temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius. (In 2017, Donald Trump announced that the United States would pull out of the accord.) The Paris Agreement includes pledges and emission updates from each country up to 2030, and while more work is needed, it is seen as a critical step toward reducing global emissions.
In a rousing and timely new book, The Future We Choose: Surviving the Climate Crisis, which Figueres co-wrote with Tom Rivett-Carnac, her partner in helping marshal support for the Paris Agreement and co-founder of Global Optimism, the authors present a roadmap for the future — mapping two potential outcomes, depending on how we choose to respond to the crisis at hand.
OneZero met with Figueres to discuss the new kinds of transportation infrastructure and energy technology we’ll need to embrace, how A.I. can be used to combat global…