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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

New Leadership on Climate Change

Air Date: Week of

Christiana Figures will be the first person from the developing world to serve as the Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC.

Costa Rican Christiana Figueres has been appointed to replace Yvo de Boer as the new Executive Secretary for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. She talks with Living on Earth’s Steve Curwood about her hopes and plans for future international climate negotiations.


YOUNG: The United Nations has announced a new Executive Secretary for its Framework Convention on Climate Change—that’s the body charged with negotiating a global treaty to reduce greenhouse gases.

Christiana Figueres of Costa Rica will succeed current secretary Yvo de Boer. She has a lengthy resume of international work related to climate change. And Figueres comes from a long line of public servants: both her brother and father served as president of Costa Rica and her mother was a member of Costa Rica’s Congress. Living on Earth’s Steve Curwood telephoned Ms. Figueres to ask about her tough new job.

FIGUERES: Hi, how are you? Thank you for your invitation today.

CURWOOD: Well, and congratulations on your appointment.

FIGUERES: Well thank you!

CURWOOD: But did you ever think, be careful of what you wish for? This is not the world’s easiest job.

FIGUERES: It’s not the world’s easiest, but it’s definitely the world’s most inspiring. I am delighted, and I’m very much looking forward to it.

CURWOOD: How’d you get interested in climate?

FIGUERES: I got interested in climate in the early ‘90s because Costa Rica had already taken a very decided world leadership role in taking climate change as a national goal and that was actually, to be honest, under my brother’s presidency was his vision. And I was inspired by that and I thought, well, if Costa Rica can do it, it is possible that other countries in Latin America could also benefit in this way.

And I took the lessons learned from Costa Rica, found a international NGO who’s purpose it was to support governments in Latin America to get more and more involved in the climate convention and begin to adopt more climate-friendly policies. And I dedicated quite a few years of my life to that NGO.

CURWOOD: People say you were selected because you have a great reputation of being a negotiator, a conciliator who brings people together. How much of that do you see as your personal strength?

FIGUERES: Absolutely critical. Absolutely critical, I’ve been really honored to have done that for quite a few years. On specific subtopics, this is the first time in which I will have the honor and the task of doing that conciliation for the entire breadth of topics. But it is clear that we are at a point in which conciliation and identification of common ground among the different parties is very critical in order for us to move forward.

Christiana Figures will be the first person from the developing world to serve as the Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC.

CURWOOD: How important is it that you’re the first American—Latin American, yes, but also very conversant with American culture, too - to head the UN Climate Convention?

FIGUERES: I would say what is very, very important is it’s the first citizen of the developing world that occupies this post.

We have had three executive secretaries—the first, Michael Zammit Cutajar from Malta; the second, Joke Waller-Hunter from Holland; the third, current executive secretary, Yvo De Boer, also from Holland—so first time this is in the hands of the developing world, and I think that’s actually quite symbolic and represents the much greater role that the developing world is taking in the climate negotiations.

CURWOOD: I’m wondering if there can be a UN climate agreement without the U.S. passing a climate bill. Indeed, can you even have a very good meeting in Cancun in—what, beginning of December of this year—without a U.S. climate bill?

FIGUERES: If the U.S. manages to have an approved climate bill by the time that we all go to Cancun, it will obviously be a boost to the negotiations. However, if that legislation is still underway and needs to be further worked on next year we can still have a successful meeting in Cancun.

What we’re focusing on—what countries have chosen to focus on in Cancun—is the very concrete delivery of the building blocks of a future agreement including fast-track financing, a structure to acknowledge the transfer and capacity building, a concrete way in which to address reduction of emissions from deforestation and degradation, and—certainly very, very importantly for the most vulnerable countries—a very structured way to address adaptation. So all of these represent an opportunity where the United States can participate even in the absence of an overall, national legislation.

CURWOOD: Now, in Copenhagen the promise was made that there’d be some 100 billion dollars in climate finance. Now what’s it going to take to deliver that?

FIGUERES: The pledge under the Copenhagen accord is for industrialized countries to provide ten billion dollars a year for this year, for the next year, and for the year 2012, making up a total of 30 billion that are under the classification of fast start financing.

After that the Copenhagen accord aspires to an availability of 100 billion dollars by the year 2020, and countries will have to budget in an incremental fashion so we will gradually be moving up to that.

CURWOOD: How do you build trust and credibility into the process?

FIGUERES: One of the things that I think is most urgent there to build trust is to begin to give proof of a willingness to move forward and to act. And in that sense Cancun acts as a very, very important step in the trust building process, in which I see that in Cancun we may be able to put on the table already some of the element that were identified in Copenhagen.

All of these that are currently pledges and good intentions on paper really need to be brought into life.

CURWOOD: Well, I look forward to seeing you in Cancun.

FIGUERES: Thank you very much, so do I!

CURWOOD: Christiana Figueres is the incoming executive secretary at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Thank you so much.

FIGUERES: Thank you.



Read the press release: Christiana Figueres Appointed New UNFCCC Executive Secretary

UNFCCC Home Page

Click here for more on Christiana Figueres

Click here for an extended interview with host Steve Curwood and Christiana Figueres.


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