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‘Paris climate deal’s ‘beauty’ is its holistic approach’

M RAMESH Chennai | Updated on January 12, 2018

CHRISTIANA FIGUERES, former Executive Secretary, UNFCCC





As the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) between 2010 and 2016, Christiana Figueres was tasked with getting all countries onboard the Paris Agreement. Though the accord was of the governments, the Costa Rican is credited with forging a collaborative diplomacy that finally delivered the Agreement. Costa Rica has issued a commemorative postage stamp in her honour. Figueres is currently the Convenor of Mission 2020, a global initiative to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 2020.

BusinessLine caught up with Figueres in Beijing, at the 8th Clean Energy Ministerial, where she was a speaker, just days after US President Donald Trump announced that the US would pull out of the Paris Agreement. In an informal chat ahead of the interview, Figueres observed that the American corporate sector and various State governments would fill the shoes vacated by Trump, which is what really matters for “Miss Atmosphere”. Excerpts from the interview:

If all the countries fully met their nationally determined contributions, would ‘Miss Atmosphere’ turn pretty? The UNEP, in its Emissions Gap Report 2016, said even if all the countries met their Nationally Determined Contributions, the globe would be warmer by 3 degrees, not two...

No. Only if all the countries do their NDCs fully over several decades. The first collective effort of all these countries is not going to be enough. We knew that.

That is why, the way the Paris Agreement is constructed — it is not static, but a dynamic agreement (that will spread) over several decades. We have this first accord signed by 189 nations and many countries, like India, are actually ahead of schedule. In any event, every five years the countries will come together and see how much we have done, how much more we need to do, and will increase the ambition until we get to the point where we can guarantee to the next generation that we are well below two degrees.

Are we being over-euphoric about the Paris Agreement? Unlike the WTO, if any country breaches the agreement, the others can do nothing about it...

I don’t think we were over-euphoric because I do think it is absolutely critical and necessary to have a global framework that everybody agrees to. Now, it is necessary but not sufficient. The Paris Agreement was absolutely necessary but it is not sufficient because what it does is, it points to the direction, gives the blueprint, but a blueprint is a plan and a plan doesn’t have an impact until you do the work.

The beauty of the Paris Agreement is it takes a lot of work that was already underway, it crystallises it with the agreement of everyone, it points to the direction, it gives the timelines, gives the process, but doesn’t exempt any of us from doubling up the effort.

I remember, when we adopted the Paris Agreement many of us went to bed at 5 in the morning and at 10, I jumped out of my bed and called several colleagues and said, “Oh, my God, now we have to get to work”.

All these were people who hadn’t slept in weeks, I call them after they have slept a few hours for the first time and say, ‘get to work, get to work’ because of the realisation that the agreement was not sufficient.

Would you say there is equal amount of attention and effort spread over mitigation, adaptation and loss and damage?

No.

We are being mitigation-centric, whereas countries like India need more ‘adaptation’, right...

Yes, we are mitigation-centric and all developing countries need ‘adaptation’. We are mitigation-centric for a couple of reasons.

First, because it is easier — to identify where mitigation opportunities are, than ‘adaptation’. But then, we have been doing ‘mitigation’ since 1992, so we have much more collective experience with mitigation than we do with adaptation.

‘Adaptation’, in the history of the Convention (the UNFCCC), is relatively new. It is urgent, but it is relatively new. You don’t find anything about ‘adaptation’ even in the Kyoto Protocol: it was all about mitigation. But, yes, there is not equal attention to it as to mitigation. The GCF (Green Climate Fund), to its credit, did take on the commitment of doing 50 per cent mitigation and 50 per cent adaptation.

The GCF is not getting enough money into it. It was supposed to rise to $100 billion a year by 2020…

No, that is not true. The GCF was never conceived to hold $100 billion. It is a component of the $100 billion, and the $100 billion itself would come from various sources.

Actually, this transformation is not about billions, it is about trillions. I am more concerned about the trillion-dollars-a-year that is needed and that is going to come from a blend of different sources. The GCF is one small source, but there will also be other money coming from both public funds, in general, and also from the private sector.

How do you view what India is doing in terms of climate change?

I am absolutely happy about what India is doing, because India is doing in its own interests. I do not know anyone here who is doing anything on this (climate change) because they want to save the planet. Everybody is doing for their own interest and that is a good thing. In addition to that, collectively they will do common good which is necessary.

The wonderful thing is that we can do both at the same time. We can do things that are good for the growth of the economy, for the health of the people, energy, safety, protection of the vulnerable, and do well for the planet. We don’t have to choose one or the other. Remember, the Paris Agreement was two years ago. And in those two years, technology has advanced incredibly, India being the best example. Who would have said two years ago that you would have solar cheaper than coal? Two years ago, we didn’t have it, now we have it.

The writer was at the Beijing Clean Energy Ministerial at the invitation of the Global Strategic Communications Council, a network of communications professionals in the field of climate and energy

Published on June 14, 2017

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