English-Video.net comment policy

The comment field is common to all languages

Let's write in your language and use "Google Translate" together

Please refer to informative community guidelines on TED.com

TED2016

Christiana Figueres: The inside story of the Paris climate agreement

Filmed
Views 1,043,513

What would you do if your job was to save the planet? When Christiana Figueres was tapped by the UN to lead the Paris climate conference (COP 21) in December 2015, she reacted the way many people would: she thought it would be impossible to bring the leaders of 195 countries into agreement on how to slow climate change. Find out how she turned her skepticism into optimism -- and helped the world achieve the most important climate agreement in history.

- Climate advocate
Christiana Figueres is the executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), who led the recent COP 21 climate talks in Paris. Full bio

I have one more reason for optimism:
00:12
climate change.
00:15
Maybe you don't believe it,
but here is the fact.
00:16
On December 12, 2015,
00:20
in Paris, under the United Nations,
00:24
195 governments got together
00:27
and unanimously --
00:31
if you've worked with governments,
you know how difficult that is --
00:34
unanimously decided
00:37
to intentionally change the course
of the global economy
00:40
in order to protect the most vulnerable
00:44
and improve the life of all of us.
00:47
Now, that is a remarkable achievement.
00:50
(Applause)
00:52
But it is even more remarkable
00:55
if you consider where we had been
just a few years ago.
00:57
2009, Copenhagen.
01:01
Who remembers Copenhagen?
01:03
Well, after years of working
toward a climate agreement,
01:06
the same governments
convened in Copenhagen
01:11
and failed miserably.
01:16
Why did it fail miserably?
01:18
For many different reasons,
01:21
but primarily because
of the deeply entrenched divide
01:22
between the global
North and the global South.
01:26
So now, six months after this failure,
01:30
I was called in
to assume the responsibility
01:34
of the global climate change negotiations.
01:38
You can imagine, the perfect moment
to start this new job.
01:40
The global mood on climate change
was in the trash can.
01:44
No one believed
01:48
that a global agreement
could ever be possible.
01:50
In fact, neither did I.
01:54
If you promise not to tell anyone
outside of this wonderful TED audience,
01:57
I'm going to divulge a secret
02:02
that has been gratefully
buried by history.
02:04
On my first press conference,
02:09
a journalist asked, "Um, Ms. Figueres,
02:12
do you think that a global agreement
is ever going to be possible?"
02:15
And without engaging brain,
I heard me utter,
02:20
"Not in my lifetime."
02:24
Well, you can imagine
the faces of my press team
02:27
who were horrified
at this crazy Costa Rican woman
02:30
who was their new boss.
02:34
And I was horrified, too.
02:36
Now, I wasn't horrified at me,
because I'm kind of used to myself.
02:39
I was actually horrified
02:42
at the consequences
of what I had just said,
02:44
at the consequences for the world
02:48
in which all our children
are going to have to live.
02:50
It was frankly a horrible moment for me,
02:56
and I thought, well, no, hang on,
02:59
hang on.
03:01
Impossible is not a fact,
03:02
it's an attitude.
03:06
It's only an attitude.
03:08
And I decided right then and there
that I was going to change my attitude
03:11
and I was going to help the world
change its attitude on climate change.
03:16
So I don't know --
03:21
No, just this? Thanks.
03:24
I don't know --
03:26
what you would do
03:30
if you were told
your job is to save the planet.
03:31
Put that on the job description.
03:37
And you have full responsibility,
03:41
but you have absolutely no authority,
03:43
because governments are sovereign
in every decision that they take.
03:46
Well, I would really love to know
03:52
what you would do
on the first Monday morning,
03:56
but here's what I did: I panicked.
03:58
(Laughter)
04:00
And then I panicked again,
04:02
because I realized I have no idea
how we're going to solve this problem.
04:04
And then I realized I have no idea
how we're going to solve this problem,
04:09
but I do know one thing:
04:13
we have got to change
the tone of this conversation.
04:16
Because there is no way
you can deliver victory
04:21
without optimism.
04:24
And here,
04:27
I use optimism as a very simple word,
04:28
but let's understand it
in its broader sense.
04:33
Let's understand it as courage,
04:36
hope, trust, solidarity,
04:38
the fundamental belief
that we humans can come together
04:42
and can help each other
to better the fate of mankind.
04:47
Well, you can imagine
that I thought that without that,
04:51
there was no way we were going
to get out of the paralysis of Copenhagen.
04:54
And for six years,
04:57
I have stubbornly, relentlessly
injected optimism into the system,
04:59
no matter what the questions
from the press --
05:05
and I have gotten better at those --
05:08
and no matter what the evidence
to the contrary.
05:10
And believe you me, there has been
a lot of contrary evidence.
05:13
But relentless optimism into the system.
05:21
And pretty soon,
05:26
we began to see changes
happening in many areas,
05:28
precipitated by thousands of people,
05:34
including many of you here today,
05:37
and I thank you.
05:40
And this TED community
will not be surprised
05:42
if I tell you the first area
05:47
in which we saw remarkable change
05:49
was ...
05:52
technology.
05:55
We began to see that clean technologies,
05:57
in particular renewable
energy technologies,
06:00
began to drop price
and increase in capacity,
06:02
to the point where today
we are already building
06:05
concentrated solar power plants
06:08
that have the capacity
to power entire cities,
06:10
to say nothing of the fact
of what we are doing on mobility
06:14
and intelligent buildings.
06:18
And with this shift in technologies,
06:21
we were able to begin to understand
06:24
that there was a shift
in the economic equation,
06:27
because we were able to recognize
06:31
that yes, there are
huge costs to climate change,
06:33
and yes, there are compounded risks.
06:36
But there also are economic advantages
06:39
and intrinsic benefits,
06:42
because the dissemination
of the clean technologies
06:43
is going to bring us cleaner air,
06:46
better health,
06:50
better transportation,
more livable cities,
06:52
more energy security,
06:54
more energy access
to the developing world.
06:56
In sum, a better world
than what we have now.
06:59
And with that understanding,
07:03
you should have witnessed,
in fact, part of you were,
07:06
the spread of ingenuity and excitement
07:10
that went through,
first through nonnational governments,
07:14
the private sector, captains of industry,
insurance companies,
07:18
investors, city leaders,
faith communities,
07:22
because they all began to understand,
this actually can be in their interest.
07:27
This can actually
improve their bottom line.
07:32
And it wasn't just the usual suspects.
07:37
I have to tell you I had the CEO
of a major, major oil and gas company
07:44
come to me at the beginning of last year
07:50
and say --
07:52
privately, of course --
07:54
he did not know how
he was going to change his company,
07:57
but he is going to change it,
08:01
because he's interested
in long-term viability.
08:03
Well, now we have a shift
in the economic equation,
08:06
and with that, with broader
support from everyone,
08:12
it did not take very long
before we saw that national governments
08:16
woke up to the fact
that this is in their national interest.
08:22
And when we asked countries
to begin to identify
08:27
how they could contribute
to global efforts
08:31
but based on their national interest,
08:35
189 countries out of 195,
08:38
189 countries sent their
comprehensive climate change plans,
08:42
based on their national interest,
08:47
concurrent with their priorities,
08:49
consistent with their national
sustainable development plans.
08:51
Well,
08:56
once you protect
the core interests of nations,
08:58
then you can understand
that nations were ready
09:04
to begin to converge onto a common path,
09:07
onto a common direction of travel
09:11
that is going to take us
probably several decades,
09:14
but over those several decades
is going to take us
09:17
into the new economy,
09:20
into a decarbonized,
highly resilient economy,
09:21
And the national contributions
that are currently on the table
09:25
on behalf of national governments
09:28
are insufficient to get us
to a stabilized climate,
09:31
but they are only the first step,
09:35
and they will improve over time.
09:37
And the measurement, reporting
and verification of all of those efforts
09:39
is legally binding.
09:43
And the checkpoints that we're
going to have every five years
09:45
to assess collective progress
towards our goal are legally binding,
09:49
and the path itself toward
a decarbonized and more resilient economy
09:53
is legally binding.
09:58
And here's the more important part:
10:00
What did we have before?
10:02
A very small handful of countries
10:03
who had undertaken very reduced,
10:07
short-term emission reduction commitments
10:11
that were completely insufficient
10:14
and furthermore,
largely perceived as a burden.
10:17
Now what do we have?
10:21
Now we have all countries of the world
contributing with different intensities
10:22
from different approaches
in different sectors,
10:28
but all of them
contributing to a common goal
10:30
and along a path
10:35
with environmental integrity.
10:37
Well, once you have all of this in place
10:40
and you have shifted this understanding,
10:44
then you see that governments
were able to go to Paris
10:46
and adopt the Paris agreement.
10:51
(Applause)
10:53
So,
11:01
as I look back
11:03
over the past six years,
11:08
first I remember
11:14
the day the Paris agreement was adopted.
11:16
I cannot tell you
the euphoria in the room.
11:20
5,000 people jumping out of their seats,
11:23
crying, clapping, screaming, yelling,
11:26
torn between euphoria and still disbelief
at what they had just seen,
11:30
because so many people
11:35
had worked for years towards this,
and this was finally their reality.
11:38
And it wasn't just those
who had participated directly.
11:44
A few weeks ago, I was with a colleague
11:49
who was trying to decide
11:52
on a Tahitian pearl that he wanted
to give to his wonderful wife Natasha.
11:54
And once he had finally decided
what he was going to buy,
12:01
the jeweler said to him,
12:06
"You know, you're very lucky
that you're buying this now,
12:08
because these pearls could go extinct
very soon because of climate change."
12:10
"But," the jeweler said, "have you heard,
12:16
the governments
have just come to a decision,
12:19
and Tahiti could have a chance."
12:22
Well, what a fantastic confirmation
12:26
that perhaps, perhaps here is hope,
12:30
here is a possible chance.
12:34
I'm the first one to recognize
that we have a lot of work still to do.
12:37
We've only just started
our work on climate change.
12:42
And in fact, we need to make sure
that we redouble our efforts
12:45
over the next five years
that are the urgent five years.
12:49
But I do believe
12:54
that we have come over the past six years
12:57
from the impossible
13:00
to the now unstoppable.
13:02
And how did we do that?
By injecting transformational optimism
13:04
that allowed us to go
from confrontation to collaboration,
13:09
that allowed us to understand
that national and local interests
13:13
are not necessarily at odds
with global needs,
13:16
and that if we understand that,
we can bring them together
13:19
and we can merge them harmoniously.
13:22
And as I look forward
to other global issues
13:24
that will require
our attention this century --
13:28
food security, water security,
home security, forced migration --
13:32
I see that we certainly do not know
13:39
how we are going to solve
those problems yet.
13:41
But we can take a page
out of what we have done on climate change
13:45
and we can understand
13:49
that we have got to reinterpret
the zero-sum mentality.
13:51
Because we were trained to believe
that there always are winners and losers,
13:57
and that your loss is my gain.
14:02
Well, now that we're in a world
14:04
in which we have reached
planetary boundaries
14:06
and that we are not
just so interconnected,
14:09
but increasingly
interdependent on each other,
14:12
your loss is no longer my gain.
14:15
We're either all losers
14:18
or we all can be winners.
14:22
But we are going to have to decide
14:24
between zero and sum.
14:27
We're going to have to decide
between zero benefit for all
14:31
or living life as the sum of all of us.
14:35
We've done it once. We can do it again.
14:39
Thanks.
14:42
(Applause)
14:43

▲Back to top

About the speaker:

Christiana Figueres - Climate advocate
Christiana Figueres is the executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), who led the recent COP 21 climate talks in Paris.

Why you should listen

Christiana Figueres has been the executive secretary of the UNFCCC since July 2010. She has directed five consecutive successful Conferences of the Parties, and is now charged with the intergovernmental process to deliver the 2015 Paris agreement on climate change.

Figueres has a long trajectory in the field of global climate change, having been a member of the Costa Rican negotiating team 1995- 2009, and having played a number of key roles in the governance of the UNFCCC before formally joining the secretariat. She initiated her life of public service as Minister Counselor at the Embassy of Costa Rica in Bonn, Germany in 1982. Moving to the USA, she was Director of Renewable Energy in the Americas (REIA) and in 1995 founded the nonprofit Center for Sustainable Development of the Americas (CSDA) which she directed for eight years. She designed and helped to establish national climate change programs throughout Latin America and served as high level advisor to both governments and private companies. In 2001 she received the Hero for the Planet Award from National Geographic.

More profile about the speaker
Christiana Figueres | Speaker | TED.com