The former climate chief of the UN advises us to find a balance between outrage and optimism.
The former climate chief of the UN has advised people to find a balance between outrage and optimism in the aftermath of a summer marked by extreme weather. This call comes as the Cop28 climate summit begins.
Christiana Figueres, an experienced negotiator credited with designing the Paris climate agreement, stressed the importance of maintaining a high level of public outcry due to the significant delay in addressing the issue. She also highlighted the inadequacy of government policies aimed at reducing emissions and the massive $7 trillion in subsidies given to the fossil fuel industry.
However, she pointed out that there is reason for hope to prevent individuals from succumbing to negativity. She stated, “Every day, I actively choose to acknowledge the negative news that bombards us through various news feeds, but I also make an effort to seek out positive developments and impactful changes that are occurring.”
Speaking to a small group of reporters on Monday at an interview hosted by Covering Climate Now, Figueres highlighted the plummeting cost of renewable energy and the growth of electric cars as two areas where positive changes were happening faster and faster.
However, she stated that we are approaching tipping points, even though they have not yet determined our future.
According to Figueres, a diplomat from Costa Rica, she began addressing climate issues in the 1990s. She admitted to experiencing feelings of despair, powerlessness, and sadness on a daily basis, but clarified that these emotions do not dominate her and do not define her energy.
She stated that if we surrender and accept that we cannot prevent going over the 1.5C threshold, we are essentially giving up and creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. Instead, our duty is to acknowledge the danger and take all necessary actions to avert it.
She made the comments as world leaders head to Dubai for the 28th UN climate summit. At a summit in Paris in 2015, when Figueres was the head of the UN body that oversaw the conference, governments signed a legally binding treaty to stop the planet heating 2C above pre-industrial temperatures by the end of the century, and ideally 1.5C. But in the eight years since, world leaders have continued to push policies that will clog the atmosphere with more carbon than many people and ecosystems can handle.
The current summit is being organized by the United Arab Emirates, a significant producer of oil and gas. Sultan Al Jaber, the president of Cop28, holds a high position in the UAE’s national oil company, Adnoc, which has intentions to increase the production of fossil fuels. Al Jaber and his followers have stated that the industry is a valuable ally and should have a representation in discussions.
Figueres previously supported a comparable mindset for a long time, as fossil fuel companies possessed significant financial resources and highly skilled engineers. However, her confidence in them has diminished after Russia’s annexation of Ukraine and the subsequent increase in energy costs. Large oil and gas corporations that promoted themselves as contributors to mitigating climate change have instead used their excess profits to benefit shareholders and reduced their investments in renewable energy.
Figueres expressed her disappointment with oil and gas companies, stating that their actions over the past year or two have caused her to lose hope in them. She believes that if they used their resources and expertise towards finding solutions, it would greatly benefit the current situation. However, she recognizes that they are not currently doing so.
The BBC reported on Monday that the UAE intended to take advantage of its position as host country to make oil and gas agreements during the conference. However, the UAE has denied these allegations. On X platform, Figueres stated that the Cop28 presidency was dishonest and urged for greater openness and responsibility.
Environmental advocates have voiced concerns about past gatherings, as the agreements reached have not aligned with the necessary actions identified by scientists to combat climate change. It wasn’t until 25 meetings later that governments finally acknowledged a specific fossil fuel in their official statement.
Figueres warned against expecting outcomes from the process that were not intended to be achieved.
“The Cop was designed, and I say this because I was there and contributed to the design, the Cop was designed to deliver multilateral agreements of all national governments coming together. To put guardrails, if you will, or to write a global business plan or whatever equivalency you want to use for the decarbonisation of the economy.”
The task was deemed to be mostly completed, according to her statement. However, there are still significant financial matters to address. As for reducing emissions, the focus should now shift to nationwide and corporate initiatives. That is where action must be taken.
Figueres upheld the Cop process and the Paris agreement, arguing against penalizing governments for failing to follow through on their commitments to reduce global warming. She noted, “It is important to keep in mind that there is no global environmental police force.”
After Canada did not follow the Kyoto protocol, a previous agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that included penalties for non-compliance, Figueres received a message from the prime minister stating that his country was withdrawing from the treaty. She stated that having punitive measures in an international legal system that respects the sovereignty of all governments is pointless and will not change.
She stated, “The motivation for taking action is the understanding that it is in our best interest to do what is morally correct. This realization was the driving force behind the Paris agreement. When all nations recognized the consequences of a destroyed planet, it became clear that no one would benefit from such a outcome.”