Why the UN meeting in Paris in December will determine quality of life for the next 100 years – Christina Figueres

The head of the UN’s body to fight climate change (UNFCCC), Christina Figueres was in Geneva last week and gave a “Executive Briefing” to the Ambassadors and Heads of Agencies. I attended with my boss and am sharing notes from the meeting. My notes are largely direct quotes from her talk.

Beneath the clouds there were climate change talks going on in Geneva

Beneath the clouds,  lies freezing Geneva (pic: AK)

Figueres spoke passionately and clearly for 30 minutes about the why climate change is a great threat to human development, what is needed to be done to stop it and the state of play with the multilateral negotiations in the run up to the meeting of the UNFCCC in Paris in December.

The challenge to stop climate change

“We can no longer solve climate change as we can’t go back but we are attempting to avoid the worst impacts…the reason we are attempting to do this is to keep under 2C rise…as we are concerned about the impact on human beings”.

She quotes a colleague who say that “we have a hazard that doesn’t necessarily have to become a disaster”

With “…proper discussions and action we can avoid it becoming a disaster…addressing climate change in a timely fashion is the gateway in order to provide future social and economic development”

“We cannot bring out 100% of people from poverty without addressing climate change in a timely fashion”

“Climate change is absolutely intricately related to development…it is not just a threat but a major opportunity.. by creating new jobs, improved local health, energy stability and national security”

We are “not going to solve climate change in Paris. In best of all cases, we will establish a pathway to solve climate change…the pathway is established by science…is time defined. If we are to stay under 2C we need to peak global emissions within the next decade and reduce emissions to point where we can establish balance between emissions and stability by mid 20th century”.

In order to be at the “balance point, we need to have made low carbon development the norm to pursue development”.

“We need to decide how to invest in infrastructure that will determine technological lockin and resilience over the next 100 years”.

The Paris outcome is so important that “it will determine the quality of life for the next 50 to 100 years. Is it possible to come to an outcome to make financial capital go in the right direction?”

Yes, for two reasons:

“…we have the technologies that have fallen in cost, e.g. solar and wind, they can be integrated into the grid system and improvements have been made in storage capacity”.

” there are a growing number of countries with climate change policies. Businesses and cities are seeing the benefits of these policies, e.g. making cities more liveable”.

PARIS – Conference of Parties, UNFCCC December 2015

What do we need to do?

1. establish the baseline on where are our emissions now, essentially “government say this is how much I can contribute to solving the issue”

2. “we chart the course for getting to 2C. but there will be a gap which we have to painfully accept – but we have to establish the process to close the gap”.

3. “collaboration is needed across countries and sectors. this is most evident between China and the US or in the cement sector where industry is working to reduce emissions”

“Political leaders in Paris have the political and moral responsibility to step up to the plate and help define the course of mankind for the next 100 years”

Q and A

The toughest question was fielded by the Ambassador of Sierra Leone. She said that renewable energy technologies are more expensive than established fuels. She asked what technologies can replace these fuels when transport fuel for example is 70% reliant on fossil fuels.

Figueres replied that this was indeed an difficult challenge but “we have come a long way with 80% reduction in costs since 2008. Solar is at grid parity in 60 jurisdictions even including fossil fuel subsidies”.

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