Only hours after an influential United Nations-affiliated intergovernmental organization declared that global warming is almost certainly caused by human activity, Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, told a filled room at the Harvard Kennedy School that she had “good news” to share about climate change. Figueres had a unique message for the eager audience members: the “good news” is “you.”
“In politics, you future leaders can advocate for climate policy and action,” she said. “In industry, you future leaders can protect the bottom line through climate action that minimizes risk and guarantees return. In science, you future leaders can redefine modern life through technological innovation that is adopted because it helps peoples’ lives.”
“You are the source of my inspiration,” Figueres said.
Figueres clarified early that her speech aimed not to reinforce the startlingly ominous facts surrounding global warming.
“The release of that report in Stockholm today is nothing less than an alarm clock moment for all of us,” said Figueres, referring to the the release of an official groundbreaking statement from Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change earlier Friday.
“I’m here to tell you that actually, I do believe there is good news on climate,” Figueres continued. “And I believe that not out of ignorant naivety; I believe it rather out of my profound conviction that the opportunities offered by addressing climate change substantially outweigh the costs of addressing climate.”
In addition to acknowledging close familial ties to the University through her father, a former president of Costa Rica who served as a visiting professor at Harvard in the 1960s, Figueres made clear that she chose to speak at the Kennedy School to address the best and brightest of today’s youth.
“I firmly believe that I speak to students here in this room who are the future leaders of politics and policy, of industry and academia, of science and technology,” Figueres said. “There is leadership power in each one of you and this is the truly great news.”
Figueres, a native of Costa Rica, was appointed to her current position by Secretary General of the United Nations Ban Ki-Moon in May 2010. Kennedy School professor Robert N. Stavins said her “pragmatic leadership of what is an extremely challenging set of negotiations” sets Figueres apart as a leader.
In an interview after the event, Figueres told The Crimson that as she nears retirement age, she can now reflect back on her influence in the world of climate change policy.
“I think my greatest contribution is to open up the space of possibility and to show that yes we can do this,” Figueres said.