A 'Stubborn Optimist' in the Face of Climate Change
As secretariat of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, Costa Rican diplomat Christiana Figueres led the global adoption of the Paris Agreement in 2015. But she was not always so hopeful, and recalls a turning point as she consciously shifted her attitude from despair to stubborn optimism. Jeff Goodell, author of The Water Will Come sits down with Figueres to reveal how individuals can harness hope and take action as they face the seemingly impossible.
How do you get a country to act on climate change? According to Christiana Figueres, you have to make it worth their while. There’s no top-down, universal fix for climate change. Each country must decide that it’s in their best interest to act on climate change, and those interests look radically different across the globe.
When Figueres, as secretariat of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, negotiated with countries towards ratifying the Paris Agreement on climate change, this is where she started. What does each country, with its own unique set of circumstances, have to gain by cutting carbon emissions or transforming their energy sectors? It was her job to help countries answer those questions.
How does it work?
Author and journalist Jeff Goodell has a hard time not being pessimistic about the future effects of climate change, but Figueres explains why optimism is the only truly responsible way to address climate change.
Christiana Figueres: Do you know of any challenge that mankind has had in the history of humankind that was actually successful in its achievement that started out with pessimism, that started out with defeatism? There isn’t. So optimism is a choice. And in as much as we create that vision and that future, then we begin to unleash an enormous amount of human potential and human dedication and determination to make that future a reality. That is why I am optimistic. Not because I am in la-la land.
Goodell characterizes the Paris Agreement as “limp,” with the US withdrawal from the Agreement in 2017 signaling a massive deprioritization of climate action. But Figueres counters with examples from India and China that make the case for persistent optimism:
In a moment of optimism, Goodell agrees that human ingenuity and creativity will drive human adaptation to many of climate change’s dire effects. Will that adaptation benefit all of humanity though? Figueres doesn’t think so.
Big IdeaI think you’re absolutely right that we would be able to redesign our future and the way that we live on this planet if we get above 2 degrees for the top X percent of population from a financial point of view. But 70 percent of the population on this world will not benefit from that, and hence I think that is immoral and unacceptable.Christiana Figueres
The majority of countries make no meaningful contribution to greenhouse gas emissions, yet those who are least responsible for climate change will most likely shoulder the biggest burdens.