What Climate Communicators Can Learn From Christiana Figueres
Last December, U.N. Climate Chief Christiana Figueres helped bring about what she herself once said was impossible – a global agreement to fight climate change. On February 19, Figueres announced that, after six years in the role, she will be stepping down. She will leave behind not only a formidable legacy, but a legion of admirers.
Figueres’ importance in forging the agreement cannot be overstated, and her approach is one we can all learn from. Here are some of the key components of her strategy:
Optimism. On Figueres’ office wall is a framed motto that reads “Impossible is not a fact, it is an attitude.” Those are words she has lived by. As this TED Blog post explains, she knew that victory at COP21 would not happen without optimism. So she “channeled courage, hope, trust, solidarity and the fundamental belief that we humans can come together and help each other to better the fate of mankind.” As communicators, we need to avoid dwelling on gloomy scenarios and instead focus on solutions, and what we can accomplish if we believe in ourselves and follow our common values.
Collaboration. Figueres made it clear that reaching an agreement would require the participation and support of multiple sectors, including business and community. She reached out to fossil fuel companies, both thanking them for their support and urging them to do more to aid the transition to clean energy. We should heed her example and find ways to collaborate with other sectors and leaders on climate solutions. We should also remember to engage people whose views may be different from our own, and help them see the value of climate action.
A vision of the future. Figueres often stated that the world is on an irreversible track towards a low-carbon economy – and the sooner countries and companies embrace this reality, the sooner they’ll be able to enjoy the economic and social benefits. We as communicators can also help paint a positive image of the future, and show how climate solutions will create a better world.
Figureres has been a staunch supporter of the work we do here at ecoAmerica, and has opened two of our Leadership Summits with uplifting video speeches. She’s been a major inspiration to climate leaders both at home and around the globe, and we are enormously grateful for her tireless efforts and for unifying the world around this most important of causes.
By Brian Greene, contributor to the TED Blog
In 2009, six months after a spectacularly failed climate change summit in Copenhagen, Costa Rican diplomat Christiana Figueres was appointed executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Her job: Leading the next round of international climate change negotiations.
At that time, no one believed that we could ever get a global climate change agreement. “In fact,” Figueres says, “Neither did I.”
Tasked, essentially, with saving the planet — with full responsibility and absolutely no authority, as all governments are sovereign — Figueres panicked.
In her first press conference in her new official capacity, a journalist asked Figueres if she thought a climate change agreement was possible. Her response: “Not in my lifetime.”
“You can imagine the faces of my press team,” she says, “who were horrified at this crazy Costa Rican woman who was their new boss.”
Six year later, that horror has turned to optimism.
Image credit: Bret Hartman / TED